Have you ever wondered why cats knead, or what you can do to make it less uncomfortable when they’re kneading your lap?
What is kneading?
Kneading is a natural instinct for cats – it’s when they rhythmically alternate their paws, pushing one and then the other against a soft object such as your lap. All cats knead slightly differently, some don’t retract their claws at all, whereas others will extend their claws as they push down and retract their claws as they pull back. Some cats even knead with all four paws. Kneading is also referred to as ‘making biscuits’ or ‘making bread’ because the action resembles a baker kneading a ball of dough.
Why do cats knead?
Kneading is an instinctive behaviour that kittens learn from their mothers – essentially, kneading helps to stimulate the milk flow from the teat whilst they are suckling. Some people believe that kneading is a sign that a kitten was weaned from its mother too early, but given that the majority of cats tend to knead throughout their lives it is more likely associated with feelings of comfort, safety and contentment.
It also believed that kneading behaviour evolved from wild cats who would use their paws to knead down the tall grass and leaves to create soft, comfortable places where they could sleep, rest or give birth to their young.
Female cats will often engage in kneading as they go into heat, which is their way of signaling to male cats that they are ready and willing to mate.
From a practical perspective, kneading is a cat’s way of marking their territory. Cats have scent glands inside the soft pads on the bottom of their paws, which are released when a surface is being kneaded. When your cat is comfortably kneading your lap, what he’s saying to other cats is ‘paws off—she/he is mine’.
Most importantly, it’s a sign of a happy cat. A contented and happy cat will often engage in kneading behaviour, sometimes accompanied by purring, dribbling and even suckling. Kneading seems to be a meditative practice and some cats will drift into a trance-like blissful state.
How do I stop my cat from kneading me?
Kneading is natural, instinctive and very common cat behaviour. It’s not something you can change nor should you try to. If your cat likes to engage in frequent vigorous kneading and is causing you pain or discomfort when kneading your lap, there are a few things you can do.
- Trim your cat’s claws on a regular basis. You only need to trim the very tip of the claw to remove the sharp point. Be very careful not to cut the quick which is where the nerves are situated.
- Keep a small towel or blanket next to your chair, or use a cushion to provide a buffer zone between yourself and your cat’s kneading paws.
- If your cat is a kneading champion with Olympic sized stamina, you can try to distract him by gently holding or squeezing his paws, stroking him or distracting him with a toy or treat.
Image: Average Jane via Flickr