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Why Do Cats Knead? 6 Reasons Why They Do It

Cats are anything but normal. They do things that leave you wondering what could possibly be going on inside their heads. One of these behaviors is what seems like a massage. You will be sitting, and suddenly your little furry friend comes over and starts behaving like a masseuse, pressing those tiny paws into your laps or belly.

They may also do it on their bed or even on random surfaces. In case you were wondering whether your cat is normal, you can rest easy, as it is a fairly common behavior among housecats. It is known as kneading. Read on to learn what your cat is trying to communicate when they knead.

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What is Kneading?

Kneading refers to the action whereby a cat pushes its paws down on a surface – usually soft – in an alternating fashion. It resembles a baker kneading dough, hence the name.

Kneading behavior varies among cats. Some do it constantly, others infrequently, while others do not do it at all. Additionally, some have their claws out when kneading, while others have them retracted. Some knead on humans and even fellow pets, while others stick to blankets, carpets, and other soft surfaces.

What’s more, this behavior could mean a wide variety of things. Therefore, context is important. Nonetheless, the following are the common reasons behind kneading behavior in cats.

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The 6 Reasons Why Cats Knead

1. Kitten Instincts

Kittens usually knead on their mothers to stimulate milk production. Whenever they do that, the mother positions so that they can have access to nourishment.

In the wild, kittens have to leave their mother and fend for themselves when they come of age. In the domestic setting, however, they are fed all their lives. As such, housecats might not outgrow that behavior since they consider you their source of nourishment.

Therefore, kneading could be a way of telling you that they are hungry and need to eat ASAP. Note whether your cat tends to do this behavior right before their mealtimes.

a kitten kneading on her mother
Image Credit: Tania Van den Berghen, Pixabay
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2. They are Marking  Their Territory

Cats do not sweat like humans because they have fur all over their bodies. To remain cool, they avoid staying under direct sunlight for prolonged periods, drink cool water, and even pant. However, they also sweat through their paw pads.

Since a cat’s sweat has its distinct scent, they may knead to leave their scent on surfaces or things they consider their own.

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3. They are Stretching

Cats love stretching, as it helps them to feel limber. Before a nice stretch, a cat might knead on a surface to ensure that it cannot only support their weight effectively but also to work those muscles in their forelimbs.

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Image Credit: kevin burt, Pixabay
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4. Looking for a Nice Spot to Rest

Cats are incredibly fastidious about the surfaces they lie on. This is why they usually circle a spot a few times to find the most comfortable resting position. Kneading is another method they use to ensure that the surface they are about to lay their lazy bones on is comfortable. Therefore, if you notice your kitty kneading a soft surface, just know that they are getting ready for some shut-eye.

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5. She Wants to Mate

During estrus, female cats may start kneading as a demonstration of their desire to mate. If the kneading is accompanied by behaviors such as being unusually affectionate, overly vocal, and begging to go outside, there is a good chance that your kitty is in heat.

Consider neutering female cats to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

cyprus cat stretching
Image Credit: FrimuFilms, Shutterstock
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6. Your Cat Loves You

Cats use a variety of ways to show their affection, with the most common one being simply sitting next to you or your lap. They may also brush their heads and bodies against you. The most surefire way, however, is purring when you pet them. If your cat takes it to the next level and simultaneously purrs while kneading on you as you pet them, it means that they are extremely fond of you.

You will notice that they tend to reserve this kind of affection for only one person. If that is you, it means that you are their favorite.

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How to Stop Kneading

While this behavior is generally cute, some cats take it to the extreme. For example, some forget to retract their claws when kneading hence hurting you, while others will start doing it to you in the middle of the night as you are trying to get some sleep.

Apply the following tips when looking to control kneading behavior:
  • Place a blanket between you and the cat so that their claws don’t hurt you
  • Trim their nails
  • Distract them with treats or toys
  • Put them in a lying position in a comfortable place
  • Lock them out of your room at night

In your attempts to control this behavior, do not punish the cat. Positive reinforcement works better.

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While cats knead for a variety of reasons, they rarely do it with negative intentions. Therefore, unless your cat does it with its claws out, there is no reason for you to stop this behavior.

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Featured Image Credit: Pxfuel