6 Reasons Cats Knead

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A kitten lays on a blanket kneading its paws.By Arden Moore, a certified dog and cat behaviorist with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Arden is an author, radio host, and writer for Pets Best, a cat insurance and dog insurance agency.

As I type this, my 10-month-old kitten, Casey, is sprawled across my lap, purring like a diesel-engine and rhythmically pushing his front paws up and down on my jeans. He sports a blissful look. But that’s expected because he is performing what feline fans affectionately refer to as “making biscuits” – the nickname for the term, kneading. The action mimics a baker kneading dough.

Animal behaviorists note that cats knead for many reasons. Since our feline friends aren’t talking, pet experts can only theorize as to why they knead laps, blankets and even the family dog.

1. First, felines are born kneaders. Nursing kittens instinctively know that by kneading on their mothers’ bellies, the paw-pushing action around their mothers’ nipples while they suckle will hasten the flow of milk.

2. Even after a kitten is weaned, he remembers the happy feeling of a full belly that came with kneading and nursing. Many continue kneading well into adulthood because the action puts them into a contented mood.

Here are other possible reasons cats knead:

3. Female cats about to go into estrus (going into heat) will step up their kneading action to alert available male cats that she is available and ready to mate. She will couple the kneading with loud, plaintive yowls, pacing restlessly and possibly, marking your home with her urine (just another reason to spay her before she enters her first estrus).

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4. Cats are feline versions of Zorro, the famous swordsman who marked places with his telltale Z. Cats are creatures who mark their territories in various ways, including by leaving their scents. Cats have scent glands on their paw pads and the kneading action releases this scent as a way for the cat to tell other cats in the area, “Hey, back off. This is my turf!”

5. Your cat’s ancestors would often return from a full day of hunting and pat down, or knead tall grass to make a comfy spot to nap or snooze. Your domesticated tabby will often do the same kneading action on a throw blanket or pillow before taking a catnap.

6. Some cats get into the ritual of kneading and purring at bedtime. Don’t let him get into the habit of kneading on you at that time because you will lose a good night’s sleep. Usher him to the end of your bed – away from your head and pillow – and encourage him to knead in this preferred location.

Normal kneading is harmless and even amusing to watch. However, some cats go overboard and protract their claws during kneading sessions and the sharp nails can puncture your skin or rip fabric. If your cat is turning you into a pincushion, the solutions are simple: simply stand up and walk away when he starts to knead on you, and keep his nails trimmed regularly to prevent injury.

As for my fast-growing Casey, the kneading session on my lap has ended and he is now snoozing on a cat tree next to my keyboard.

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