Why Do Cats Knead?

Don’t you just love it when your tabby pops up on your lap and starts to knead? Massaging first with her right paw, then her left, on and on, right on our back or belly or wherever she decides. The question is: is she kneading out of love? Out of instinct? Out of necessity? The answers to these questions are varied but let’s see what we can come up with.

Orange cat in woman's lap

Kneading – What’s in a Name?

Some folks call it “kneading dough” or “making biscuits,” while others like to think of it as their kitty’s own little mambo dance. Add a little Latin music and off she goes. Some cats do it more than others, which adds to the confusion when determining what’s really going on. While some may hardly ever knead, some pick it up later in life and others are ready for Dancing with the Stars at the drop of a hat.

It’s All In The Past

The most plausible answer is your furry masseuse is reverting back to her childhood when she would knead her mother’s stomach to help get milk. This was obviously a time of comfort for her, and who couldn’t use a little more comfort?

Well, most cats get plenty of comfort what with an average of 16-20 hours a day of napping, treats made especially for them, along with all the belly rubs they can stand. Talk about a rough life!

Kitten playing in someone's lap

What’s That Smell?

Some say when your cat is kneading, she is actually scenting the area and claiming it as hers. Now, the claiming an area part we can go with, because all our feline masters feel like any and every part of our home is theirs, but what about this “scenting” thing? As it turns out, cats have scent glands in the pads of their paws. They also have them on their cheeks, on their head, and a one or two other areas we’re just not going to go into right now.

When your friend is kneading you, she’s marking you with a scent from her paws. So when another cat tries to swoop in and claim you as theirs: sorry, bud! You’ve been claimed.

The Wild Life

Another theory is that the kneading may bring them back to when they were in the wild and had to pat down foliage to make a bed for sleep or for giving birth. This doesn’t seem as practical an explanation, although many cats do, after kneading someone’s belly or lap, circle a few times before plopping down.

This seems to be grasping at straws for a theory though, especially since cats were domesticated around 4,000 years ago. That’s a long time for a behavior to persist, especially when you consider how easily distracted kitties can be. How many times has your tabby been fully engrossed in playing with you when a grasshopper jumps, wait was that an ice cube falling on the floor, whoa, check out that bird, was that a rabbit, oh darn, it’s nap time?

Happy Orange Cat

I’m So Happy

Whatever the reason for the kneading your cat does, it sure seems to be a sign of contentment; the purring is a dead giveaway. For most of us, the theory that they are harking back to nursing with their mother is the most plausible, and heart-warming of them all.

By Michael Ryan

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