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Cat subtleties and behaviors are often lost on their human companions. When spending time with your cat, you might notice they like to knead blankets, furniture, and even you. Kneading is evolutionary and instinctual, and cats prefer to knead soft surfaces. There are many reasons why cats knead, ranging from communication and creating a comfortable environment to the need for attention. However, excessive kneading can indicate an underlying anxiety or behavioral issue.
As a pet parent, it’s important to understand and monitor your pet’s behavior. If you notice your cat is spending more time kneading, it could be their way of handling a fearful event. However, kneading can also be your cat’s way of communicating with you. Most cat parents keep their cats kneading from time to time, and this adorable behavior isn’t just to make you watch them. It’s perfectly normal behavior that they find comforting. In this article, we’ll discuss what cat kneading is, why they do it, and when to worry about kneading.
What Is Kneading?
Kneading is a rhythmic motion of your cat’s paws, alternating between the left and right paws to push something gently. They may push blankets, bedding, pillows, and your body when they’re trying to communicate or get comfortable. Some cats may extend their claws when kneading while others knead with their claws retracted. Cats may purr or drool while kneading because they’re relaxed.
Why Do Cats Knead?
Cats knead for many reasons since it’s a natural instinct they’ve had since they were wild cats. There is no single reason why cats knead because it’s their way of communicating or expressing themselves. However, here are a few reasons why your cat might knead.
Kittens knead their mother to stimulate the production of milk.2 Kittens knead while weaning because it reminds them of the comfort they had with their mother and siblings. If your adult cat is kneading, it could be leftover from when they were nursing, and some cats never grow out of it.
To Express Contentment
Cats knead when they’re comfortable and to show happiness. If you have a cuddly cat, you may notice they knead when you show them affection. They may also purr to tell you how happy they are.1 Of course, kneading can be comfortable if your cat has their claws out and is kneading your body, so you should put a blanket between you and your cat just in case they accidentally scratch you.
To Communicate Affection
Cats often knead their owners to show affection and mark you as their territory.3 Of course, they mean to mark you in a loving way by putting their scent on you through the scent glands in their paws. Cats may also knead you if you’re wearing something soft and comfortable while rubbing up against you.
If your cat is restless, they may find ways to self-soothe. Cats may knead as a way to expel excess energy caused by stress. Cats find kneading soothing, and your cat may look like they’re in a trance because the kneading motion is calming to them.1 Cats that are anxious may knead excessively, which we’ll discuss more in-depth later. However, if your cat’s kneading is a symptom of anxiety or fear, it’s always best to discuss it with a vet.
To Prepare For Sleep
Cats often knead to make their sleeping environment more comfortable because it gently pushes blankets and padding material from pet beds into the ideal spot for them to have the ultimate comfort. This behavior is passed down from their ancestors, who had to use leaves and grass for nests.2 Kneading to prepare for sleep may have been a passed down instinct, or your cat might be doing it to make their bedding more comfortable.
Cats need between 12 and 18 hours of sleep every day, while some may sleep more than that.4 Cats may knead their paws to stretch and release tension from naps in the same way humans stand up and stretch after waking up from sleep.1 Kneading allows your cat to get blood back in their paws without exerting too much energy while they’re still sleepy.
To Suggest They Are Ready To Mate
Cats may knead during heat as a form of nesting to tell males that she is receptive to mating. During this time, your cat may begin rubbing against objects, kneading her feet, and meowing excessively to attract a mate.5 Kneading is also part of male mating behavior, and it can get aggressive because males may become restless when looking for a mate.
Should I Be Worried About My Cat’s Kneading?
While not all cats knead, it’s completely normal behavior and positive for your cat’s health and emotional well-being. Of course, there are some instances when kneading may indicate a serious problem. Along with excessive grooming, obsessive kneading can indicate an underlying anxiety or behavioral problem in cats, especially if they experience a change in behavior.1
If your cat starts kneading more than usual, discuss the issue with your vet because obsessive kneading may be a behavioral disorder common in anxious cats. Cats may also engage in other compulsive activities that they use to cope with fear or stress.
Additionally, some cats knead more than others, so if you have a cat that doesn’t knead and one that kneads a lot, it could be because some cats overuse this mechanism to provide themselves with more comfort.1 Of course, kneading is just one way cats soothe themselves.
Kneading may also become a problem when it’s tied to other mating behaviors. Cats in heat may be more sexually expressive, excessively meow, become more vocal or show neediness by rubbing against you. You can prevent this type of behavior by having your cat spayed or neutered to help them live a long, healthy life while preventing unwanted pregnancy.6 Spaying also protects female cats from uterine infections and breast cancer and reduces the chances of male cats developing testicular cancer.6
Kneading can also become frustrating if your cat kneads you with their claws out since they can hurt you. While your cat doesn’t mean to injure you when kneading you, the behavior can get irritating for pet parents. If you don’t want your cat to knead you, you can put them on a soft blanket or pet bed when they begin kneading to redirect their actions to something they can’t hurt. You can also give them toys and treats to help distract them and get out any nervous energy they have that may cause them to knead.
Never scold your cat for kneading as it’s instinctual; it’s not something they learned, but you can prevent it by redirecting their behavior to something else. Of course, cats can knead for all types of reasons, so if you want to prevent it, you’ll need to figure out why your cat is kneading and come up with a solution based on their behavior. For example, if your cat is kneading because they’re anxious, you’ll need to find ways to manage their anxiety and fear.
Kneading cats may knead anything that’s soft and comfortable, including blankets or their owners. Cats may knead for several reasons, so it’s important to understand their body language. For example, if your cat is drooling and purring while kneading and seems to be in a trance, it may indicate that they’re happy or calm.
While kneading is a natural and normal behavior, some cats knead more than others. Additionally, excessive kneading may indicate an underlying anxiety issue. If you notice your cat is kneading more than usual or they’re experiencing other symptoms of fear and anxiety like stiff body language or aggression, talk to a vet.
Dutch offers telemedicine for pets to help you learn more about your pet, connecting you with a vet who can teach you everything you need to know about cat behavior, including kneading. Whether you’re wondering why your cat is kneading, or you’re worried they have anxiety, Dutch is here to help.
Taylor, Martin. “Why Do Cats Knead? the Cause of Obsessive Kneading in Cats.” WebMD, https://pets.webmd.com/cats/what-to-know-kneading-cats.
“Is My Cat's Kneading Normal?” AAHA, https://www.aaha.org/your-pet/pet-owner-education/ask-aaha/is-my-cats-kneading-normal/
“Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?” Animalpath.org, 14 Oct. 2021, https://animalpath.org/why-do-cats-knead-their-owners/.
“How Long Do Cats Sleep?” Sleep Foundation, 20 Apr. 2022, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/animals-and-sleep/how-much-do-cats-sleep.
Bukowski, John A., and Susan Aiello. “Breeding and Reproduction of Cats - Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Aug. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/routine-care-and-breeding-of-cats/breeding-and-reproduction-of-cats.
“Spaying and Neutering.” American Veterinary Medical Association, https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/petcare/spaying-and-neutering.