Relaxed cat laying on his owner

Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners? (Surprising)

It feels good to be kneaded sometimes. Have you ever wondered why it is that your cat does a rhythmic motion with its paws on your tummy or lap? We’re going to explore that and so much more, but to begin, let’s ask ourselves what kneading is in the first place.

What Is Kneading?

Simply put, kneading is a cat’s repetitive action using its paws. They will push their paws into any soft surface, even your couch. But on most occasions, your cat is doing this to your body.

A Peculiar Form of Praise: Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?
Cats kneading

When a cat is kneading, they’re pushing in and out, and sometimes they’ll extend their claws while doing the repetitive motion, then retract the claws when pulling back. This kind of beautiful dance of the cat’s ‘arms’ is adorable to watch, but sometimes owners will find it mildly uncomfortable.

For all avid cat owners, you may be shaking your head or rolling your eyes. You think kneading is the best darn thing since sliced bread. But for some, they find the contact mildly disconcerting, and we’ll explore just why that might be.

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How Do Cats Knead?

Most cats only knead with their forepaws, while others will actually knead with all four paws. The action of kneading is very relaxing for a cat, and sometimes they’ll get so relaxed in the act of it that they’ll actually drool, just like you do when a commercial for fried chicken comes on the television. The pushing motion of the cat is called kneading because it resembles what human hands do when they’re kneading dough. If only cats could practice their receptive motion on a sourdough boule.

How to Stop Cats from Kneading?

If you’re one of the unfortunate owners that don’t appreciate the kneading, simply try to guide the cat into a position where it’s lying on its side. From there, the cat may fall into a relaxed sleep. Another option is to have a toy nearby with which you can engage your cat. They’ll forget about the kneading soon enough. Even if you love the kneading, sometimes the action gets in the way of working on your computer, reading a book, or playing video games on your couch. The best method for getting the cat to stop is distraction.

Why Do Cats Knead?

Cats are kneading their owners

Now that we know the basics of kneading, why do cats actually knead their owners? The answer is that it’s an instinctive action. Shortly after kittens are born, they learn the practice of it, and this is for several reasons. For one thing, kneading indicates relaxation. When your cat is relaxed and happy, their instincts tell them to begin kneading. The action of it is to stimulate milk production in the mammary glands of the kitten’s mother. It’s also a way that a cat tries to relax themself after a stressful situation. Say your cat just had a bad encounter with your dog, then runs over to you on the couch to knead you. This is an active way for them to shake off the stress that has just occurred.

Another reason that a cat kneads is to essentially mark their human owner. Cats are very territorial creatures, and when they knead humans, they mark them with their sweat glands. This might sound strange to you, but it’s an action that several species of animal undertake, and even humans do it to some extent.

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There is one other theory in regards to kneading, but it’s not as widely accepted. Some think it began with wild cats who used the kneading motion to build nests of grass and leaves. The nests were built as places to give birth and then have a good rest afterward. No matter why your particular cat kneads you, there’s a good chance that the kneading happens right before they fall asleep. And, you also may notice that female cats knead more frequently when they’re in heat.

The softer the fabrics that you wear, the more often that you’re going to be kneaded. You may notice that when you wear a woolen shawl, a soft sweatshirt, or any other supple fabric, your cat gets a lot more attention. This is because these kinds of fabrics make for comfortable surfaces to sleep, and so the cat is fluffing things up a bit when they knead. It’s kind of the same thing that you do to your pillows before you fall asleep.

Kneading Means “I Love You”

A Peculiar Form of Praise: Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

So essentially, when your cat kneads you, they’re trying to tell you that they love you. It’s their way of buttering you up, and showing that you’re a cozy human they want to claim as their own. Even if there are claws involved in their kneading, it’s still a sign of affection. They want to join your company. That being said, if you’re getting uncomfortably scratched or prodded during your kneading sessions, it’s helpful to trim your cat’s nails so that they won’t hurt you when they’re on your lap.

Another great way to alleviate the pain of kneading is to put a thick blanket on your lap. A towel will do, as well. That way, the cat can show its affection without you receiving holes in your legs, or worse yet, ripping your clothes. It may seem strange that cats knead into adulthood, but it’s really because they’re reminiscing about the good old days when they were kittens. They’re reminded of this time because your lap is just as warm as their mother’s belly used to be.

What are some other ways that your cat shows that they love you? Well, for one thing, there’s purring. Often cats will purr and knead at the same time. Cats express happiness and love through purring, which happens when relaxed. You can often hear rumbling and vibrating when your cat does so. Another way they show that they love you is by rolling. Have you noticed how children throw themselves on the ground and roll when they’re in a bad mood and throwing a tantrum? Well, cats exhibit the same behavior but for the opposite reason. If they really love you, they’ll show you their belly. The last show of affection that we’ll discuss is bunting. This is when your cat rubs its cheeks on you or head-butts you on the forehead. When they do this, they’re trying to leave their scent on you, just as they do with kneading.

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To sum things up, your cat kneads you to show that they love you, they’re relaxed, and they’re ready for sleep. It’s a ritual that they’ve known since they were kittens, and it leads to a state of contentment. So sit back, relax, and enjoy how it feels to truly be kneaded by someone.

"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
-- Terry Pratchett

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