‘Making biscuits,’ as some say in reference to cat kneading, has roots in a feline’s kitten years. Kitties knead on their mother’s abdomen so more of the nourishing milk is released. This massaging action is accompanied by purring, as stated in a report. The purring lets their mother know they are getting full from the nursing.
Typically, this ‘muffin-making’ behaviour fades by the time kittens reach adulthood as they no longer rely on milk. But why do some full-grown cats still do it? There are even cases of cats kneading air, face, or blanket. And sometimes you may even wonder, ‘Why does my cat knead on me?’ Here are three reasons from three different veterinarians.
Feline pets still associate the kneading action with the memory of the comfort and satisfaction provided by their mother’s milk. As such, they find the habit soothing and relaxing.
‘Like a kid sucking a thumb, it’s a calming thing,’ explained Dr Katy Nelson, a veterinarian based in Virginia. ‘A lot of cats have their eyes closed and look like they’re completely zenned out.’
Sometimes, the kneading feline may even try to suckle whatever it is massaging. It may even drool and/or go into a trance as it does the gesture. This clearly harks back to the time it was still suckling from its mother for nourishment. This has some connection to another explanation by biologist John Bradshaw, who extensively observed feline behaviours.
‘They are using behaviour that they would use toward their mother. All the behaviour they show toward us is derived in some way from the mother-kitten relationship.’
It Marks the Cat’s Territory
Veterinarian Dr Karen Becker mentioned another theory on why cats knead: ‘Your kitty has scent glands in her paws and her scent will be left behind on any surface she spends time kneading. So, this behaviour might be a way for her to let others know where she’s been.’
Scratching the face or paw (or both) on furniture or some other surface also leaves a scent behind. Whilst this may be satisfying for cats, it certainly is a nuisance for pet owners if there is property damage involved. Rather than stop your furry friend from digging her claws as she kneads, consider clipping her nails to keep them short. This helps minimise the destructive effects of the scratching.
It’s a Sign of Affection
Veterinary behaviourist Dr Sharon Crowell-Davis believes that cats knead to show affection. They associate this habit with the feeling of comfort whilst snuggled with their siblings and mothers. As such, they tend to do the massaging to those that they feel positive about.
So if your feline friend kneads you, she favours you tremendously! This is especially after you pet her or show her affection. Her massaging is her way of returning your sweet gesture.
Other Reasons for Cat Kneading
Some experts have the theory that the patting motion may be a remnant of an old habit from their wild past. Before cats were domesticated, they tend to prepare the surface they will sleep or give birth on by patting down the grass. This is said to be part of the feline way of settling down for bedtime.
Another trigger for the kneading is hormones. Female cats have been known to do the massaging action when going into heat. Dr Crowell-Davis said that the comfort-motivated kneading is different from the kind done by a kitty in heat.
How about the cat kneading and biting phenomenon? This is said to be usually done by male felines. It is also thought to be a habit carried over from their breeding behaviour. This may be the case for male cats that have been neutered at more than four to six months old. This kind of behaviour is similar to that of neutered cat humping.
When the Kneading Gets Out of Hand
Never punish your cat for kneading. She does not realise that she is hurting or bothering you when she does it as she associates the behaviour with a positive event. If it escalates to obsessive levels, even involving chewing on blankets or fabric whilst massaging, redirect her attention. Distract her with a toy or a treat.
Has this article been helpful for you? If you want to learn more tips, check out more articles about pet behaviour!