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Why Do Cats Knead? 3 Reasons Behind Their Weird Quirk

Do you find it amusing when your cat kneads on your lap? Here are 3 reasons why cats knead, what it means, and how you can get them to knead elsewhere.

If you have a sweet tooth like I do, you probably know a thing or two about kneading dough and making biscuits. That said, cats aren’t exactly the kind of creatures that are known for their cooking or baking skills.

So what could they possibly be doing when they try to rub their tiny paws into your lap as if they’re whipping up your family’s signature cookies? Apparently, it’s their way of showing you affection. There are a couple more reasons why cats knead.

Reasons why cats knead

It’s a natural instinct

Our furry friends are born with this intrinsic need to knead. If you own a kitten, pay attention to how they sometimes press into their mother’s belly when they’re nursing.

This action is referred to as “milk treading,” and it’s meant to stimulate milk production. Tucked up against their mom, the kitten feels safe and warm while she’s being fed, and this is one of the reasons why she kneads.

Now, not all kittens grow out of this behavior when they mature. There are cats that carry on with this two-paw motion into adulthood, especially when they’re content. Some cats will go all in and knead with four paws.

One of the theories proposed for this phenomenon was that cats continued kneading in their adulthood because they were weaned too early. But this is far from the truth as nearly all cats knead, regardless of how early or late they were weaned.

Marking their territory

Another argument brought forward is that kneading is a cat’s way of marking her territory. In other words, they’re trying to stake their claim. As such, this behavior is often observed in cats that live in a multi-pet household.

A cat’s scent glands are located in several areas, namely, cheeks, on the sides of her head, tail and paws pads! So when they knead – be it on a blanket, pillow or your lap – they’re trying to ensure that they leave a trace of their scent behind. She’s basically making it known to other cats in the house that you, and possibly every other soft surface in that space, are hers.

Making a comfy resting place

According to others, kneading is an activity that can be traced back to the period before domestication.

Back then, wild cats used to pat down on grass, in an attempt to create a soft surface either for resting or giving birth. Based on this, kneading comes naturally to cats whenever they’re looking for a place to settle down.

Should you stop your cat from kneading?

Despite the reasons causing your cat to knead, you don’t need to stop. It’s a behavior that comes naturally to them, and one that makes them feel happy and content.

The only thing you can do is to lessen the potential discomfort from kneading. For instance, if your kitty has long nails, and prefers to knead on your laps, the kneading may feel slightly painful. So here’s what you can do:

  • Trim your cat’s nails to a reasonable length. Ensure they’re not too long so that when she kneads on blankets, coach or clothes, she doesn’t rip them. It also won’t be painful for you if your kitty prefers kneading on you
  • Train your cat to knead elsewhere. As adorable as it might seem, not every cat owner enjoys their pet kneading on them. If this is the case, you can use a pheromone-based spray to train your cat to knead on a designated blanket or pillow
  • Don’t punish your cat for kneading. Chances are, she won’t take it nicely and will likely lash out. As mentioned earlier, it’s an inherent behavior so you’re better off using distraction or redirection techniques to ward off the behavior

Is it unusual for a cat not to knead?

Turns out, kneading is not a very popular activity among cats. Speaking to SheKnows Dr. Elyse Kent said that just 1 out of every 100 cats continue kneading beyond kittenhood.

So if your calico cutie favorite pastime is snuggling up to you and kneading on your lap, count yourself lucky. She is simply trying to tell you how happy you make her feel.

Cats knead for a variety of reasons. One of this is because they retain the habit right from their kittenhood. Kittens will often knead their mothers as a way of stimulating milk production. So if your adult cat is kneading, it’s because she associates the activity with a feeling of comfort and content that follows after being fed. Other reasons why cats knead entail preparing a comfortable resting place- as did their wild counterparts in the past- and to mark their territory.

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