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Why Do Cats Knead? 7 Vet-Reviewed Reasons Why They Do It

brown black tabby maine coon cat
Image Credit: Pxfuel
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Christian Adams
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Vet approved

	Dr. Maja Platisa Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maja Platisa

DVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are anything but predictable. 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 why your cat is doing this and if it 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 their 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 7 Reasons Why Cats Knead

1. Kitten Instincts

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

It is commonly believed that kittens weaned too soon may exhibit this behavior more often; however, this anecdote is not based on scientific evidence. It seems that most cats knead no matter when they were weaned. Possibly, this behavior continues into adult life since it brings cats reassurance, the same as it did when they were with their mother.

a kitten kneading on her mother
Image Credit: Tania Van den Berghen, Pixabay

2. It’s Comforting

Kneading starts at a young age and, besides getting the mother cat to release milk, it also provides the kittens with comfort and reassurance. Kneading in adulthood likely provides them with the same soothing feeling, and cats that are happy and relaxed are often seen kneading. They may do it even if stressed in order to calm themselves down.


3. They are Marking Their Territory

Cats have many different ways of communicating between themselves. They are territorial animals and like to make themselves known to other cats in the neighborhood by using various means, with scent being the most important one. 

Cats have glands in their paws and by kneading they leave their scent on surfaces or things they consider their own. This is a clear message to other cats to stay away.


4. They Are Stretching

Cats love stretching, as it helps them to feel limber. Before a nice stretch, a cat might knead on a surface in order to warm up and work those muscles in their forelimbs.

cat stretching
Image Credit: kevin burt, Pixabay

5. Looking for a Nice Spot to Rest

Cats are incredibly fastidious about the surfaces they lie on. This may be why some cats circle a spot a few times to find the most comfortable resting position. Kneading is possibly another method used to ensure that the surface they are about to lay on is comfortable. Therefore, if you notice your kitty kneading a soft surface, just know that they are getting ready for some shut-eye. Although there are several theories about why they circle before resting, to this day, we don’t know for sure.


6. 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

7. 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 and purr continuously 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 may notice that they tend to reserve this kind of affection for only some people. If that is you, it means that you are their favorite.

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How to Stop Kneading

You shouldn’t stop cats from kneading because it’s a natural behavior that brings them comfort. While this behavior is generally cute, some cats may take it to the extreme. For example, some forget to retract their claws when kneading, thus unintentionally 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 if they are too long
  • Distract them with treats or toys
  • Give them a comfortable bed or blanket
  • Ensure there are plenty of scratching posts

Luckily most cat parents love when their cats knead, and it is something we can’t get enough of.

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Conclusion

While cats knead for a variety of reasons, they rarely do it with negative intentions. Therefore, unless your cat does it with their claws out, there is absolutely no reason for you to try and manage this behavior. Cats find it comforting, and it’s something they have been doing for a very long time.


Featured Image Credit: Pxfuel

About the Author

Christian Adams
Christian Adams
Christian is the Editor-in-Chief of Excited Cats and one of its original and primary contributors. A lifelong cat lover, now based in South East Asia, Christian and his wife are the proud parents of an 11-year-old son and four rescue cats: Trixie, Chloe, Sparky, and Chopper.

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