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Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

Cat kneading owner's blanket

Contrary to the belief that cats are not fun to play with, these furry animals can prove to be wonderful company, especially if they have been brought up with tons of positive reinforcements and socialized well.

Whether it is cuddling with their human for some warmth and protection or using their tiny paws to knead their owners, there is something utterly adorable about cats and their distinctive displays of affection.

If your kitten or cat has been displaying a tendency to knead you with its paws, you may find yourself confused about the reason why cats indulge in this activity. Here is all you need to know!

What Is Kneading?

Before trying to understand why cats routinely knead their owners, it is important to pay some attention to what the act of kneading really is. Just as you would knead the dough with your hands using a particular, repetitive motion, cats carry out similar actions.

Here, a cat firmly pushes down on a surface using its paws, where the toes are opened and the claws are exposed. When they remove their paws from the surface, the claws also go back in. The entire process involves pushing down against the surface using one paw at one time and the other right after. This is done at regular intervals, usually with a couple of seconds between each turn.

While cats are usually not very fussy about sitting on hard surfaces, their paws come out for kneading only when a softer surface is around. For example, you may not notice a cat kneading the top of a table, but when it may be inclined towards pulling out its paws and kneading the owner when it is resting on his or her lap.

There are instances where your cat may not enjoy being disturbed when it is concentrating on kneading, but you must ensure that the claws are well-trimmed or you could potentially be hurt in the process because of the pressure applied.

What Does the Kneading Indicate?

If you notice a kitten soon after it is born, you may be able to see that it is during this phase of their lives that they get used to kneading soft surfaces around them. Over time, they develop a sort of instinctive affinity towards these actions. In this section, some of the main reasons why cats are drawn to kneading are discussed:

  • Relaxation — A tense cat will not be seen kneading its owner, as the act is usually an indication of relaxation on part of the cat. Even after they have undergone some stressful situations, cats may turn to kneading as a way to relax.
  • Stimulation — Another instance where cats may be seen kneading soft surfaces is when they want to stimulate the mammary glands to aid the production of milk. Kneading is seen as one of the activities that could be related to feeling secure and putting out the cat’s domestic instincts.
  • Marking — If you have any experience as a cat owner, you’d already know that these feline creatures can be quite territorial about a number of things, including their humans. If you notice your cat continuously kneading you, it may be because it is trying to mark you as its own. The sweat that is secreted from the glands in the region is used for this purpose.

What Are the Other Reasons Why Cats Knead?

According to some theories, the act of kneading goes back to the time before cats were domesticated and brought into human homes to act as pets and companions. Wild cats spent a good part of their lives searching for food or hunting.

When they finally came back to end the day, they could be seen patting down the leaves and plants around the area where they were going to rest for the night. This soft area was then used to sleep or even give birth — both of which are indicative of settling down. Over time, according to this hypothesis, it became a natural part of their behavior, especially when they are getting comfortable.

The other popular hypothesis, which was briefly mentioned in the section above, is that cats claim a particular area as their own by kneading it. Their paws have glands that leave sweat on the surfaces that they are pressed against.

Just as scratching surfaces is a visual sign that the area has been marked by a cat, the scent left behind by the cat through kneading is also supposed to send out a message to any unknown or unfamiliar cats that the particular area — or person, in the case of the cat owner — has been marked as territory.

What to Think If Your Cat Is Kneading You

Kneading is completely normal for cats, which means that it shouldn’t be a cause of worry for you as a cat owner. In adult cats, it can be traced back to the time when they were little kittens waiting for their mother to feed them. In order to get milk for the adult female cat’s mammary glands, kittens are known to put some pressure with their tiny paws, an act that is very similar to kneading in older cats as well.

The joy, relaxation and contentment that is felt by kittens when they are being fed also extends to adult cats, who continue kneading as a way to showcase their love when they grow older. If they are receiving love and affection from the owner as they sit on his or her lap, they are also likely to respond by kneading the owner — almost as if they are trying to express their adoration for their human.

As a cat owner, especially one who has been with the pet for a while now, you must remember that the cat is most relaxed when it is around you or perched on top of your lap for some warmth and comfort. If you have any soft fabrics on you, the cat may be even more inclined towards putting its paws against you.

While some of them may expose their claws in the process, there are also others that do not do so. If there is a thick blanket or similar barrier between you and the cat, you should not feel any discomfort either.

Another situation in which cats — female cats in particular — are seen kneading a lot more is when they are looking to mate. If you are wondering what can be done by you when your cat is kneading, the next section should be of some help.

What Should You Be Doing About It?

Cat owners, especially those who do not have much experience with these pets, may find themselves confused when they notice the kneading behavior. Many want to know what can be done in situations like these, but you must remember that kneading is a natural instinct of cats and you cannot punish them for it or it could backfire.

The first and most important thing that you should keep in mind is trimming the cat’s claws. The process of kneading can expose their claws and if they are too sharp, they will end up hurting you or even scratching your favorite couch! If the cat is kneading you, keep a thick blanket or towel so that the claws do not come in direct contact with you. In other cases, cover the surface with a couch cover to prevent scratches.

In case this doesn’t work and you still want to keep the cat from bothering you, try to make the cat lie down so that it can get comfortable and sleep. Any other distraction could also help in making the cat stop — but do not punish it for kneading! In case your cat is repeatedly using kneading as a way to showcase its willingness to mate, you may not have many options in front of you, other than waiting this period out or getting it spayed.

If you notice that your cat is kneading you quite regularly, there is no reason for you to panic or worry. It simply showcases a natural instinct that cats have been nurturing since the time they were young kittens.

As long as you take note of the measures that are mentioned in the section above, you will find yourself adequately equipped to deal with situations where your cat is kneading. This is nothing out of the ordinary and can just be put in the category of things that come to cats naturally, whether it is purring, cuddling or other similar actions!