Why Does My Cat Need to Knead?

CatChannel expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains cats' urge for this comfort behavior.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: Jan. 30, 2009, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: My sister adopted a cat who survived ground zero of Hurricane Katrina. The cat, Midnight, moves her front legs up and down on a towel repeatedly (20-30 times) and then stops. Does this mean anything or is she just stretching or doing something with her claws?

A: Midnight is either looking for a horizontal surface to scratch or she is demonstrating a common cat behavior called kneading. Since it is common for cats to knead on towels and other soft fabrics, I am going to assume she is kneading.

One way that cats communicate their happiness and contentedness is through kneading. Usually kneading behavior is accompanied by loud purring and sometimes drooling. The intensity of the kneading varies from cat to cat. Some cats are gentle, soft kneaders; others knead with a strong strokes, their claws extending and retracting rhythmically.

Many cats enjoy sitting and kneading on their favorite humans laps. While it is a sweet behavior, some cats knead with an enthusiasm that can be a little too intense for their people. In order to avoid becoming a human pin cushion, a towel or a blanket can be placed on the person’s lap while the cat kneads.

Kneading is a comfort behavior that dates back to Midnight's days as a nursing kitten. Kittens instinctually knead to increase or stimulate the milk flow from their mother. Midnight’s kneading as an adult signals she is happy, secure and all is well in her world.

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Reader Comments

Robin    Miami, FL

4/1/2013 12:04:35 PM

My Jake is 3 yrs old and have grown very very close- I took him home when he was 5 mons from an animal shelter, where he was said to be extremely mistreated and abused. He started out scared and gave me little affection, as time went on he started to become attached to me having to see me, although not needed to be on top of me. Now my beautiful Jake loves to knead me , mostly first thing in the morning when I get up, still he bed, be comes beside my left side and kneads, it could've for as long as 1/2 hour, if I don't disrupt him, he then nettles his body into me and rests his head on my chest as he purrs and drops his head back to look at me, as I encourage and give him lovings in return, he purrs louder and louder. I do need to make sure my banket is covering me as his craws hurt, I know he does'nt mean to hurt me. He is just showing me love and contemptment- unbelievable to how his life started out. When I was taking him home from the shelter, I was told that he will have lasting affects of his abuse. I told them, "he coming home with me, I will love him enough, that he will overcome. Today Jake is the most affectionate loving well adjusted love, love is understood across all walks of life, from animal to human. I love my best friend Jake and I absolutely love him kneading me, as he is showing me how much he loves me too.

jennifer    bremerton, WA

10/7/2012 10:51:30 PM

I laughed out loud reading Kim's comment. I googled this behavior and it brought me to this thread- I have experienced the same thing with my cat for the last 12 years and it is a joke in my family. he only does this to me. it's pretty annoying and happens every time i sit down. i love my cat, but would like to be "just friends" :)

jennifer    bremerton, WA

10/7/2012 10:50:13 PM

I laughed out loud reading Kim's comment. I googled this behavior and it brought me to this thread- I have experienced the same thing with my cat for the last 12 years and it is a joke in my family. he only does this to me. it's pretty annoying and happens every time i sit down. i love my cat, but would like to be "just friends" :)

Candy    Grosse pointe, MI

5/14/2012 3:06:41 PM

To the first comment " sexually harassed " really? Give me a break! It's ur car showing u affection! Some people.

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