Why Do Cats Knead?

Treasure this sign of affection from your pet, recommends a feline behaviorist.

By Pam Johnson-Bennett

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Q. Why does my cat, Kelso, like to knead my neck or on top of my head? Some say cats don't love, but I take this as a sign of love from him. Or is this a way that he's showing domination?

Pam Johnson-Bennett explains the meaning behind kneadingFeline behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Think Like a Cat, says: Who in the world told you that cats don't love? That person was way off the mark.

Your cat's kneading behavior is sign of contentment and affection. It's a throwback to kittenhood where a kitten would knead the queen's teat in order to stimulate lactation. In adult cats, they often knead (otherwise known as the milk tread) when they are on a soft, warm material and feel very comfortable and safe. It is a loving, precious gesture and although it can sometimes hurt if a cat's claws haven't been trimmed lately, I consider it to be one of the sweetest displays of affection.

Pam Johnson-Bennett, CABC
IAABC-Certified Animal Behavior Consultant

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Reader Comments

janet    bethlehem, PA

9/12/2013 4:46:07 AM


CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

4/1/2013 12:29:08 PM

Kathy -- Try finding a security blanket of sorts for your cats to knead. The next time a cat tries to paw you, place a blanket or towel where the cats are kneading. Put this cloth over your arm or stomach or wherever your cat is kneading and let your cat paw this for a while. Gradually remove the blanket and place it next to you. Encourage your cat to use this blanket by sprinkling it with catnip, too.

You can also reach out to other cat owners on our forum at CatChannel.com/Forum for their advice. Good luck

Kathy    Ormond Beach, FL

3/31/2013 3:11:12 AM

my problem is this -- I KNOW that my cats are loving me when they milk tread on me, but IT HURTS! and sometimes I yell at them ("get the hell off me!") and then I feel bad... i'm going to just have to take the bad with the good, right? but... owww. my question is this -- if they are milk treading on me it means that i'm their mommy and they love me and they're comfy, WHICH I LOVE, but I have so many scratches on me, and it hurts, and if they would stop it would be great... HELP???

asdf    asdf, MA

12/11/2012 12:43:51 PM

well first off, if they are are really comfortable with you when you hold them or when they're on you, they might start kneading because it also remingds them of being with their mother and kneading against her belly when they were a kitty. if you really watch a cat when its doing it you can almost see it smiling with its eyes. and about the love thing, i had a cat that loved me more than almost any person in the whole world could love! he came to us on the front porch one day and he was cute so we took him to the vet and got him patched up. now, technically he should be thankful for my parents for paying for him to get fixed. but i helped him recover from the surgery everyday, and i feel like he thought he owed his life to me. he was an AWESOME cat. don't ever say cats can't love and that cats don't remember stuff. because they totally can just like humans!

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