Why Do Cats Knead?

If you have pets at home, you may have observed some of their behavior and wondered, "why do cats do that?" Among the most curious behaviors that are commonplace throughout all housecats is the tendency to knead. Kneading refers to a process in which a cat stretches its front two paws out in front of it and slowly presses and rubs at the surface on which it is standing. The motion looks similar to the process of kneading dough that a human might do. If you've noticed your cat doing this and have wondered why this behavior is so common among cats, read on.

Marking of Territory

One of the most compelling reasons for a cat to knead his paws has to do with his tendency to want to mark out his territory. Cats that live with other cats or animals, or cats that come into contact with outside pets, are generally the most likely to knead in this way. The reason for this kneading is that cats actually have small scent receptors located on their paws. By rubbing their paws against the surface on which they're standing, cats pick up on the smells from other animals in the area. This helps to tell them whether or not the area is claimed as the territory of another cat.

While kneading, your cat also leaves his own scent in a particular area. This serves as a call to other cats and animals that may be able to detect his smell that he is nearby and that he has claimed the territory as his own.

Signs of Affection or Emotion

Kittens are born with the innate tendency to knead their paws. The primary reason for this is that they make use of the kneading motion while nursing. Newborn kittens will knead at the mother cat's teats in order to stimulate the flow of milk, allowing them to eat. This motion is born into kittens instinctively, and it will oftentimes persist into older cats as well. It's also not uncommon for cats of any age to knead at other objects, perhaps under the mistaken impression that the object is a mother cat.

It's likely that, if you've seen your pet kneading, he has seemed to be very content and happy. Because of the positive associations with kneading and getting an extra bit of food, kittens (and therefore older cats as well) will tend to knead when they are feeling calm, relaxed and happy.

Kneading is a completely healthy and natural behavior. If your cat kneads with his claws out, he may cause scratches to particular surfaces or areas. If you notice this behavior, gently distract your cat or lift your pet up to place him in an area where kneading will be more appropriate. Finding a soft cushion or carpet to knead on is a good choice for a cat that likes to knead a lot.