Making biscuits, playing pattycake, mushing. It goes by different names, but most of us have seen our cats knead as though they were pressing down on the freshly risen dough. They may knead soft blankets, stuffed toys, other cats, and even sometimes humans. As cute as this behavior is, it can leave us wondering why they engage in this behavior.
This behavior stems from their kittenhood! Cats begin this behavior when they are young, and they typically knead their mother. This helps Momma Cat’s milk production. But after they grow up and are no longer dependent on their mother’s milk, cats can continue the behavior. Even though kneading a surface does not produce any milk, adult cats can associate this motion with the sense of comfort they felt when nursing.
So, why do our cats knead their owners? If you happen to be petting your cat at the time they begin to knead, this is your cat’s way of returning the affection! Placing a thick blanket between you and your cat can be a useful tool to make this experience less painful for you.
The act of kneading can also be your cat’s way of stretching their muscles! Cats appear to be naturally flexible as we have all seen them twist into peculiar shapes. Kneading paws can be a great shoulder stretch for your cat as they begin to settle into their next nap. Kneading surfaces can also be a form of marking their place. The act of kneading activates the scent glands in between their toes and marks the surface or item that they are kneading. Female cats may also engage in kneading and other behaviors to signal to male cats that they are approachable for possible mating. If you have any concerns or questions about your cat’s kneading habits, feel free to mention them to your vet at your next visit!