Part of the fun of cat ownership is observing the many “uniquely feline behaviors” displayed by our sweet kitties. Stalking, pouncing, fastidious grooming, and tail twitches are just some of the many examples of behaviors we observe in cats but not other pets. Kneading (the rhythmic, alternating push and pull of the front paws against a soft surface) is another common, yet puzzling, universal cat behavior.
So, why do cats knead?
A Matter of Comfort
Anyone who’s had the privilege of watching a cat knead can tell this is a pleasurable and comforting activity. Kittens knead their mother’s belly to stimulate the flow of milk, and it’s very likely this positive association has been carried over into their adult lives, regardless of when or how they were weaned.
It Comes With the Territory
Cats are extremely territorial and use scent glands to mark their territory. Scent glands located in the paw pads are stimulated through kneading, releasing your cat’s unique scent onto whatever surface they’re pummeling. So, when cats knead your lap, they’re not only conveying a sense of comfort and security, they’re also telling the world that you’re part of their territory!
Cats Knead, Deal With It
Although you would never want to deny your pet any pleasure, it can be a bit disruptive when kitty chooses your furniture, clothing, or lap (ouch!) as their preferred kneading location. You can mitigate the damage in the following ways:
- Keep your cat’s nails trimmed. You can do this at home using a cat nail trimmer to clip the sharp, curved tips of each claw. Be careful to avoid the quick (the nail’s blood supply). You can also ask us for help the next time your cat is in for a wellness checkup.
- Provide plenty of cat-approved scratching surfaces, and redirect kitty when possible.
- Keep a pillow or towel near your favorite seat to slip between your lap and your cat’s paws.
- Protect the corners of your furniture with towels or other barriers.
- Have your female cat spayed, as instances of kneading (and other behaviors) often increase just before going into heat.
Your cat doesn’t mean to scratch you during kneading, but it can happen. Thoroughly wash any scratches with soap and water since cat claws can harbor dangerous bacteria.