Most cat owners have already seen their cat knead soft surfaces. They come around quietly, climb onto your bed and settle on your belly. Then, they start to use their front paws to knead. Isn’t it so adorable? Cats can also knead sheets, the sofa, or other soft surfaces. If you observe your cat, you’ll see that when they do this, they are particularly serious and serene. But why do they do this? Here are a few explanations to help you better understand your feline friend.
Why do cats knead?
There are different explanations and theories that could explain this behavior.
An instinctive behavior
One reason why cats knead or “make biscuits” is because it’s an instinctive behavior. As kittens, cat needs to drink milk from their mothers. Kittens can put their paws on their mother’s belly and knead to help the milk come out more easily. By doing this, they are allowing their mother’s mammary glands to produce more milk. Kittens continue to do this until the end of their nursing period (weaning).
It is a reflex that doesn’t need to be learned. Kittens know instinctively that by kneading their mother’s belly, they will get more milk. With that being said, if a kitten doesn’t know how to do this, their mother will teach him how. When kittens get older, kneading soft surfaces brings them back to those special moments with their mother. These “good memories” help to destress them as well. Cats can also start purring while kneading because they feel good. When your cat kneads your belly, they are assimilating you somehow to their mother.
An ancestral behavior
Cats haven’t always been domesticated. They lived outside and needed to find places to sleep as comfortably as possible. In those days, cats still took long naps. To make a cozy place to sleep, cats used to knead the chosen surface. They used to flatten the surface and make it softer. Kneading is also a way for cats to create a space where they feel comfortable. Cats choose surfaces like their bed or their place on the couch to do this because they feel comfortable there.
Kneading, a mark of ownership
Your cat likes showing that they own the place. They can show this by kneading. When your cat kneads a blanket or pillow, they are releasing natural pheromones that allow them to communicate. These pheromones are produced by the sweat and sebaceous glands. They are mainly found on their face (eyes, mouth), genitals and paw pads. A human cannot smell feline pheromones. However, it is a clear message to other cats: this is my home.
When cats knead to show ownership, they do not close their eyes or purr. They are doing this to mark their territory. Cats choose surfaces that they consider sacred to their territory such as you, their bed, or their blanket. They will not even leave a millimeter of surface without depositing their pheromones with their paw pads. It is also a way for them to feel good. Because they are putting their smell everywhere, it’s home. Stressed cats also knead surfaces to reassure themselves.
A message of love
Some researchers observed that females knead more regularly before their heat period starts. This is a message to male cats that they will be ready to “meet” them physically.
A cat weaned too early
Several theories have also suggested that adult cats who knead might have been weaned too soon. It’s best to wait at least 8 weeks before weaning a kitten. If a cat has been weaned too early, you might see them kneading, but also sucking at the same time the surface that they are pawing.
Your cat feels good…or not
The last theory to explain kneading: if your cat kneads, it’s because they are feeling good. Kneading helps to evacuate all the stress that is stored up. This activity also allows them to stretch their muscles gently. Making biscuits is a moment of pure happiness for your cat who feels good mentally and physically. They usually purr and have their eyes half closed.
However, for some felines, kneading can mean something completely different. Other studies have shown that a cat who feels the need to knead could be suffering from stress. They might be using kneading to feel better and to “heal themselves”. Observe your cat. If your cat kneads very often or if your cat has gone through a difficult event, it could be a sign of stress. By kneading, your cat is trying to reassure themselves by thinking of the good moment they had when they were a kitten. If you notice your cat being stressed, try to be there to reassure them. If it isn’t enough, you can try testing natural anti-stress products.
My cat doesn’t knead. Is it normal?
There’s nothing to worry about if your cat doesn’t like to knead. When cats grow older, like children, they can start to abandon certain habits from their childhood. It’s kind of like when a child stops sucking their thumb, for example. It also depends on their preferences. Some humans like getting massages and even go several times a week. Others hate it and would never get a massage. Cats are similar in this way. Some cats love kneading because it helps them relax, others don’t. Therefore, it’s not a problem if you cat doesn’t ever knead.
However, if your cat has never kneaded before and then suddenly they start to, observe them. Their gestures would be more brutal, they could “want to hurt”. In this case, it’s important to ask for advice from a veterinarian or a cat behaviorist. Your cat might be going through a lot of stress.
Let your cat express themselves
First of all, you should know that for a cat, kneading is a perfectly normal behavior. However, when your cat is an avid biscuit maker, it can damage your fabrics or hurt you because they use their claws when they knead. Kneading is an instinctive behavior, it is therefore difficult to keep your cat from doing it. They do it without thinking. For them, it’s a way to communicate. Kneading allows them to express their well-being, show that they are happy and that they have a strong relationship with their owner. Forbidding your cat from doing this would seem totally illogical. Avoid using strong methods. Do not use a spray bottle for example as it will destabilize you cat. It could also cause your cat to develop anxiety.
How can you keep your cat from damaging your furniture?
We cannot really stop a cat from kneading. What is troublesome, however, are their claws because they can scratch surfaces. It is thus important to try to resolve the problem “at its root” and to pay attention to the claws of your animal. Trim off the pointed end of your cat’s claws or buy them a scratching post. This is especially important if your cat lives exclusively inside because their claws aren’t used and do not wear down on the floor.
You can also give your cat a blanket that they can knead. This is a good solution to allow a stressed cat to have a safe place where they can feel good. It is also a good way to give your cat a place where they can knead all they like.
If your cat is ruining your couch and doesn’t want to knead the blanket that you gave them, you can use natural products to calm your cat. If your cat gets stressed when certain things happen such as a new person coming or when you moved, you can use Bach flowers. Add a few drops of Rock Rose or Cherry Plum to their food. Your cat will feel more calm.