You know the signs of a serene cat: Eyes squeezed shut, a steady purring rumble, and the up-and-down rhythm of their front paws kneading, first the right and then the left foot spreading and closing, pushing deeply into a soft pillow or blanket.
Cats display this behavior quite regularly. They perform the ritual on their favorite people, or companion animals. Some cats extend their claws while kneading, while others do not.
It’s not entirely clear why cats do this. However, there are theories. The most common one is that the kneading is a behavior that carries over from when the cat was a young kitten. From the day they are born, nursing felines knead their mother’s belly to encourage milk to flow. It’s thought that the nursing experience, expressed through kneading, releases endorphins and promotes bonding between the kitten and mother cat.
As kittens mature, the kneading behavior remains as an expression of calm in moments of goodwill. As they knead, some older kittens and even adult cats will continue to suck on blankets or other surfaces. This behavior is known as “wool-chewing” and can be a sign that the kitten was weaned too early. But the concept of endorphin release is further validated by the glassy-eyed stare that often accompanies kneading and the occasional drooling. Obviously, the cat is getting something out of it!
Another theory goes back to the days when cats were still wild, pushing down patches of grass or leaves to make beds for themselves.
Cats have scent glands in their paws, so experts in cat behavior indicate that kneading might be a form of marking territory, just as when a cat stretches and claws on furniture or a scratching post. So, if your cat is kneading away on your lap, they may be “marking” you.
Is your cat too knead-y? Some cats can be too vigorous with this habit. Yet there are ways you can get around it.
The easiest thing to do is keep your cat’s claws trimmed. You can use a pair of regular human nail trimmers. Cat claws are transparent, so it is easy to see where the blood supply, or “quick,” ends. It’s a good idea to train kittens to tolerate this. Hold your kitten firmly and don’t let him go until he stops squirming. If you do this every time you pick him up, you will have an easier time trimming his claws.
If you have an adult cat that doesn’t want their claws trimmed, you might want to encourage them to use scratching posts in your home. Have a plush towel ready for couch time, so there’s a cushion between your cat’s feet and your skin.
In an unaltered cat, hormonal changes can exacerbate kneading, so it’s best to have your pet cat spayed or neutered.
Kneading should not be discouraged or punished, as it is inherent in feline behavior and might have a calming effect on the animal. A kneading cat tends to be a happy one, and there are straightforward ways to fix any inconvenience it can cause.
Besides, when living with an independent creature like a cat, isn’t it nice know when you’re “kneaded?”