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Cats are territorial creatures, and one of the ways they safeguard their turf is to scent-mark their belongings. By kneading their paws onto the surface of an area (yes, including you), they’re activating the scent glands located inside the soft pads on the bottom of their paws, thereby marking that item as theirs.
Female cats have an additional reason for kneading: they’re known to knead their paws just before going into estrus — commonly known as "going into heat." Kneading acts as a display to male cats that she wants and is able to mate.
Cats have many unique and amusing behavioral traits, and kneading is just one of them. So even though these are some of the more popular ideas for why cats are thought to knead, it certainly doesn’t provide all of the possible reasons. For example, some cats knead just before they’re about to take a nap. Whatever reason your cat kneads, the one thing all these ideas have in common is that kneading is natural, instinctual, and common cat behavior.
Image: Dave / via Flickr
The time period in which a female is receptive to male attention