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Why Do Cats Knead?




Kneading is the motion cats make by rhythmically alternating their paws, pushing in and out against a pliable, soft object (such as a lap). Not all cats knead in the same way; some never push out their claws at all, and some even use all four paws. While not all cats knead, it is a common behavior for young and adult felines alike, so it's likely your cat does it. Have you ever wondered why cats knead at all?


There are a few different ideas out there as to why. Some cats knead (and purr contentedly) when they’re being petted, but they may also do it for no clear reason. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular theories.


Kid at Heart


Cats start to knead as kittens, before they’re even able to get around on their own, while nursing from their mother. A nursing kitten instinctually kneads to help stimulate the mother’s milk production. Why do they continue to knead past nursing age? Even though kneading a soft surface doesn’t yield milk, adult cats forever associate the motion of kneading with the rewarding comfort of nursing.


Love Hurts


If your cat is curled up and kneading your lap while you’re petting him, he’s returning the affection and telling you he loves you right back. Unfortunately, this can be quite painful, since the happier he is, the harder he’ll dig in with his sharp nails. Try placing a thick, soft barrier between the cat and your lap, or gently place him on his back and pet his belly if it gets too intense. However, do not punish your cat for this behavior -- he doesn't relaize it hurts. To better ensure the comfort of both you and your cat, make a habit of keeping his nails trimmed, or invest in nail guards to cover your cat's nails.




Cats are natural yoga masters and love to work out all the kinks left over from napping. Think about it — if you have sore shoulders, it feels good to grab onto a surface and pull against it. Kneading is one of the many ways cats keep themselves limber … until the next nap.


Bedding Down


The wild ancestors of domestic cats liked to lay down on soft, comfortable surfaces to either sleep or give birth to their young. By kneading down tall grass or leaves, cats were able to fashion a comfy spot to lay down in, and also possibly to check the ground for unwelcome visitors lurking under the foliage.


Comments  5

Leave Comment
  • Really?
    12/15/2014 12:59pm

    I will buy the first listed reason of instinct and milk yields but the rest really sounds like a bunch of bologna.

  • 04/17/2015 01:34pm

    Actually, this all sounds perfectly reasonable. However, I'd suggest ignoring the advice that you should put a cat on its back and pet his tummy. You should not do this ever unless you have one of those unusual cats that actually like belly rubs. Most cats will grab your hand/arm and try to disembowel it with their hind claws if you touch their tummies. Bad idea.

  • 05/01/2015 04:25am

    My cats all love to have their bellies rubbed.
    I know people say they don't like it, I have heard it all my life but honestly I can remember one who hated it and most want you to do it. They might get over stimulated and bite after a couple of minutes though so watch out for the inevitable!

  • 07/21/2015 11:49am

    My cat will only knead furry surfaces so the kitten reflex carry over seems the best answer.

  • Kneading
    01/03/2015 06:22am

    Is there a way to stop too much kneading? My cat drives me nuts.

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