Why Do Cats Knead? The Complete Answer

cat kneading

Cats are masters of many mysteries, but one question even the most devoted cat-lover must still be asking is, “Why do cats knead?” The answer might seem obvious to some, but there are plenty of other questions that need answering first. For instance, why do cats generally behave this way? Do all cats exhibit this habit? What is the purpose of kneading? This article will break it down and shed some light on the dark art of feline kneading.

Why Do Cats Knead and What Is Kneading?

Kneading is typical behavior in domestic cats that people once believed to be purely instinctual. Nowadays, more people agree that it’s a learned behavior with many functions. The first step to understanding why cats knead is understanding what it is. Cats exhibit this behavior when they’re happy, but that’s not the only reason why they do it. This behavior helps your cat stretch their muscles, massage themselves, and express affection. The kneading motion they use looks very much like a cat kneading dough or making biscuits. Most cats will do it first thing in the morning or when they’re in a good mood. If a cat isn’t kneading, it may be experiencing some pain or discomfort. Always check with your vet if you notice this behavior and aren’t sure why they’re doing it.

All Cats Knead, right?

It’s a general truth that all cats will eventually develop this habit, but some take longer to build it than others. Kittens are born with the instinct to knead, but because their claws haven’t formed yet, they use their paws for kneading, just like adult cats do. It’s not uncommon for adult cats to forget that they can’t use their claws on the fabrics of your furniture and clothes, leading them to try until they get a little frustrated. These are good reasons why you shouldn’t declaw your cat!

The Kneading Motion Explained

The kneading motion consists of three distinct movements. The first motion is a paw push, which uses the bones and tendons in the paw and toes of your cat’s foot. The second step is a paw turn, and the third step is another push type of motion. The cat pushes their paws against something, often its chest. This action bends over their back leg, bringing it under their front leg, which is pointed towards them at an angle. When you see cats kneading, this action often looks like they’re trying to roll themselves into a ball. Cats usually accompany this kneading motion with a low purring sound that communicates happiness.

Why Cats Knead with Their Chest?

Many people wonder why cats knead with their chest instead of their paws, an action more common in other animals. The answer is straightforward – cats have unusual anatomy for undeveloped claws and nails. Their toes and nails are pretty short, making it difficult for them to use the ends of their claws like other animals. The bones, tendons, muscles, and skin on their paws are much stronger than other animals, allowing them to produce a lot more pressure with each paw push.

What Cats Say with Their Kneading Behavior

It’s hard to read a cat’s kneading behavior because there isn’t one clear meaning, and it’s open to interpretation. Indeed, a cat will primarily use this behavior when happy, but not all the time. Cats will also knead when they’re experiencing discomfort, pain, or want to relieve themselves. Any cat will often switch into its kneading method when experiencing discomfort. Also, changing their kneading behavior back and forth between their chest and paws is a common habit. Sometimes, they’ll substitute the kneading motion with rubbing their heads on surfaces like your sofa, bedding, or against you. They usually don’t do this in a pronounced manner, though. Instead, they’ll make a barely audible sound that means “I’m kneading” before they change their actions. If you want to know if your cat’s growling has a connection with their kneading, look for the direction of movement they are kneading. You’ll either notice that it is kneading with its paws or chest. You might also be able to see it rubbing against something like your sofa or bedding while they’re meowing. It’s a good way of monitoring when your cat is experiencing discomfort. Your cat may knead as a way of trying to express its territory, especially when you introduce an unknown type into its space. For example, some cats will knead when they have a litter of kittens or adopt an orphaned one. They might be doing this to show their kittens what’s theirs and what’s not. They could also be trying to comfort their newborns. On the opposite side of that, your cat may also be trying to mark something as its own. If you get a new piece of furniture, your cat may see it as an opportunity for them to show off where they like to sleep. They may also be trying to tell you that they’re not happy with where they sleep and want to be somewhere else.

Why Do Cats Knead with Their Chest? Why Do Cats Move Between Hand and Paw?

The question of why cats switch their kneading behavior back and forth between their chest and paws needs answering as well. Is it simply that cats don’t know what to do with the motion? No. It’s quite the opposite. Cats will switch back and forth between kneading with their paw or with their chest based on how they feel at that moment. Cats will start to use one method when they’re happy, but they’ll switch over to using the other method before long. It’s tough to predict what your cat will do unless there’s some consistency to its behavior. That’s why it’s hard for you as a cat owner to know what their kneading means at any given time.

Disadvantages of a Cat Kneading on your Sofa

Cats kneading on your sofa may take a toll on your furniture. The main disadvantage is that cats can dent, scratch, or rip the fabric of your couch. Therefore, declaw your cat more often since they like to knead on couches and bedding. It’s a tendency that seems to give them some tactile stimulation. It’s also a way of massaging themselves that gives them comfort from the sensation and pressure. Choosing not to declaw your cat means being ready to get a new sofa once your current furniture is damaged!

The Painful Downside of Kneading

A cat’s claws may be tiny, but they can still hurt if they’re rubbed against something when the cat is kneading and get injured, causing infection. This gives the cat more reason to get those scratching urges out and accelerate the injury. While you’re watching your cat kneading, you should also watch out for its claws. If the cat seems to be gaining traction on the surface they’re kneading on, stop them immediately before their paws get stuck in the spaces they’ve created. Failure to which the cat may get hurt and develop a severe infection on the spot they are using to knead. Also, teach your cat alternative ways to let off their kneading urges, like using a scratching post to help prevent potential claw or paw injuries.

What You Can Do About Cats Kneading on Your Furniture

The best thing you can do about cats kneading on your furniture is to train them not to do it, but that might not be easy if the behavior has developed since they were kittens. But you can indeed stop the habit by scolding the cat, though it might not solve the problem. Chances are, the cat will move on to another part of your furniture and knead. Giving your cat a scratching post might be a more effective solution. It’s an approach that can quickly get the cat under control. If you own a cat, start taming the kneading behavior at a tender age by training it to keep off your furniture. Another thing you can do is to get your furniture professionally cleaned to get rid of the cat’s pheromones. Thoroughly vacuuming and cleaning the fabric will detach the cat from the couch. That will keep your furniture safe and clean, so you won’t have to worry about the cat kneading on it. Cats are indeed animals, but when domesticated, they are pets. So treat your cat appropriately like a companion and train it to behave around the home. Unlike dogs, cats are not very smart but are trainable. You can stop your cat from kneading on your sofa or pillows by offering an alternative surface for them to knead, scolding them whenever they rub on your furniture, or redirecting their attention.

Do Cats Knead You When You Are Pregnant?

Your cat kneading on your abdomen when you’re pregnant isn’t an expected behavior, but it does happen. Many pregnant women have experienced this with their cats. It can be a sign that the cat is concerned about its owner. But sometimes, it is just a way for the cat to get closer to you since you generate much heat when pregnant. The kneading can also be therapeutic to a pregnant woman that is almost giving birth. It can provide them with comfort and relief from the pain and stress of giving birth. There aren’t any guarantees, but your cat might stop doing this once you give birth. It’s also possible for them to continue doing it. That’s why you shouldn’t worry about your cat kneading on your abdomen when you’re pregnant unless it becomes a problem for you. It would be best to teach your cat a different way to get your attention during this time.

What Exactly Causes a Cat Kneading on the Sofa?

A cat will knead on the sofa in your absence for many different reasons. For instance, when playing, relieving stress, or seeking comfort. They can also do it to get rid of their pent-up energy or when trying to communicate with you. However, it’s hard to predict the reason behind this behavior. Most people translate this to mean the cat was trying to get the owner’s attention. But, that’s not always the case.

Is Kneading a Good Behavior for A Kitten?

Cat kneading on your sofa might seem inappropriate, but there are some benefits to this behavior. The main is a cat’s way of expressing affection to you and their need to be close to you. Some cats like to knead on you because it feels good and gives them something to do. They’ll also express their affection by licking your face or neck while they’re kneading.

Why Does My Cat Knead So Much? To what limit should They Do It?

It’s very typical for a healthy cat to knead the occasional time, but they don’t usually do this all of the time. Some health conditions could cause your cat to knead more than usual, though. If your cat is kneading more than usual, it may be experiencing pain. Another cause may also be a behavioral problem and even a urinary tract disorder. So, if your cat kneads too much, please don’t assume that it’s normal or just part of its personality. Your cat may be trying to tell you something, or it could be experiencing discomfort or pain that you need to address. A vet should be able to help you figure out the reason behind the cat’s intense kneading.

Summing Up

As elaborated, there are many theories behind cats kneading. If you’ve been observing this behavior with your cat and wondering if it’s normal or odd, we hope this article has shed some insights. Monitor your cat’s behavior, and know when to seek professional help, whether getting a vet to examine the cat or a professional trainer to couch your cat on better behaviors. The trainer can help redirect the cat’s attention using toys or treats. If you want to maintain a good relationship with this mysterious creature, never punish it for its instinctive behavior- kneading. Otherwise, it’ll respond negatively, and you’ll lose its trust.

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