Cat Kneading Explained
We’ve all experienced it. You wake up in the middle of the night, tiny little pinpricks digging into your skin, then retractracting, then skewering you again. It can happen at all hours of the day or night but it always wakes us up when the claws get involved.
It’s funny, and often meant as a feline compliment. But, when it’s not relaxng it can be a legitimate pain. There are many names for this odd behavior: kneading, making biscuits, baking bread, and it’s something nearly all cats do. So, why do they do it?
Why Do Cats Knead?
The cat kneading a human is actually a very basic feline communication attempt. This is yet another shared trait with their big wild cat relatives, as cats of all sizes knead.
Starting at birth, kittens knead while nursing to help push the milk out and to stimulate more production. Paws alternate from left to right in a rhythmic pattern. Animals other than cats also do this, but tend to grow out of the behavior.
Kneading can include all four paws or only the front paws. Claw usage also varies across cats. One customer mentioned his cat will suckle on his blanket and drool when he kneads. This is also perfectly normal behavior!
This ingrained kitten behavior stays with cats as they grow. It’s an indication the cat is comfortable or planning to get comfortable. There are other factors for the kneading but the most important one is that they will only do this around people they feel safe with.
Should I Continue To Let My Cat Knead Me?
While it may hurt us as those little needle claws dig in, it is the ultimate compliment that they really do care about us. It’s tough not to want to reprimand them or stop them, but I would suggest resisting this urge. Kneading can be a big anxiety/stress buster for cats. It takes them back to a simpler time when they were younger, and can also help them stretch their paws and release tension.
Kneading can also help your cat bond with you. There are little glands in cat paws that release marking scents, indicating that your cat claims you as theirs. They’re marking you their property as they knead!
Lastly, female cats in heat will use kneading as a sign to males that they are the ones chosen to breed with. Kneading is really a way of saying you’re approved by me.
So, while this behavior can be a little disruptive or may ruin a delicate blanket, it’s really quite sweet.
Rock the Cat Spa owner Cari Thompson is a life-long cat lover. When she's not running the luxury cat spa & hotel, she's playing with her cat, Daphne. She writes weekly blogs on cat behavior, health, and care. To learn more about her, check out the About Me page!