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Why do cats knead? Six sweet and surprising reasons

why do cats knead
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ever found yourself wondering, why do cats knead? If you share your home with a feline furkid, then you probably already know that there’s nothing better than snuggle time, but if you’ve ever found yourself grimacing in pain as your kitty sinks their claws into your lap, then you might indeed be asking yourself, why do cats knead?

Even though your legs may disagree, cuddly lap cat breeds make some of the best companions. There’s nothing they love more than curling up with you and lapping up all your affection, which you’re probably more than happy to dish out if only they’d stop treating you like you’re a piece of dough that needs to be worked before going into the oven! 

Feeling like you’re being prepared to be turned into a loaf of bread is one of those things that comes with the territory of being a kitty pet parent. While you can invest in one of the best cat beds to pop your feline furkid into when it all gets too much, the various answers to the question why do cats knead are just so darn cute we have a feeling that once you know them, being a human pin cushion won’t seem so bad.

1) To stretch their muscles

You’ve not seen a yoga master in action until you’ve seen a kitty flex and stretch, and when it comes to a mat, who needs one when they have your lap?!

One of the ways a cat keeps their muscles supple and healthy is through kneading, which lets them work out any kinks they have. You might have noticed your cat kneading and stretching at the same time – that’s because the two complement each other, and help them to get a full-body workout. 

If you’re finding all those yoga poses to be a bit much on your own muscles, we recommend choosing one of the best cat scratching posts that you can set up and use to redirect your kitty when your legs need a break. The taller the better, as this will provide them with the length and depth of stretch their muscles crave. If you're thinking, 'why do cats knead?' here's one possible answer.

2) To mark their territory

As far as your kitty’s concerned, you belong to them, and they’re not afraid to mark you to keep other curious cats away - the last thing your feline furkid wants is to have your heart stolen by a rival, hence their behavior that has you imploring, 'why do cats knead?'

When your cat kneads you, pheromones are released through the sweat glands in their paws, which are undetectable to your nose, but act as a warning to any other kitties who might try to get close to you. 

3) As a way of showing love

The simple answer to why do cats knead could be as a simple means of affection. While cat communication may sometimes feel harder to decipher than that of our canine companions, their love is always on display – we just need to know what to look out for.

You might have noticed that when your cat is on your lap and you’re petting them that their kneading may become deeper and more insistent. That can often be a rather painful experience, but if you can keep in mind that your kitty is repaying the favor by returning your love with their own, it can help make it a little more bearable.

Why do cats knead? Grey kitten kneading persons jumper and looking at camera

(Image credit: Getty Images)

4) To prepare their resting spot

Have a kitty that seems to knead for hours before they finally settle? When it comes to preparing to rest, your furkid has a whole regime they need to go through before they can finally settle into their favorite cat sleep positions. Hence the answer to 'why do cats knead?' becomes a bit more obvious.

If you have a canine companion, you may have noticed they do the same thing, turning round in circles before finally lying down. Kneading is the kitty cat equivalent, and it helps your cat to create a comfy space to lie down in.

It’s likely also a leftover behavior from their days in the wild, where they would have kneaded the ground to make sure no dangerous objects or unwanted visitors were lurking under the foliage. 

5) It's a leftover behavior from kitten-hood

Still wondering, 'why do cats knead?' Kneading is one of the first things a kitten learns to do after they’re born, as it’s that action of pushing their front paws up and down that helps the milk to flow from their mother’s teat.

So, if kneading is a way of helping a young kitten to nourish themselves, why do they continue to do it long after they’ve been weaned? The most likely answer is because it’s comforting. When they were little, the act of kneading produced a reward that made them feel all warm and fuzzy, so even after they’re all grown up, they associate the act of kneading with those same satisfying feelings. 

6) To get their flirt on

While it’s not the most common reason, there are times when a female kitty cat will get her flirt on by way of kneading. Kneading her paws just before she goes into heat is a way of a female feline calling all the boys to her yard and letting them know she wants to mate.

And sometimes? Well, your furkid might even try out their flirting tactics with you as a way to get what they want! If their kneading is accompanied by solicitous purring, watch out, as your feline friend may be trying to curry favor as a way of getting you to top up the food bowl.

How to get your cat to stop kneading

Legs can’t take it anymore? Never fear, we have a few top tips that can help dial down the discomfort of all that kneading and stop your legs and your clothes from being ripped to shreds.

  • When it comes to giving your pet a pedicure, the best nail grinders for pets are your best friend. These will help keep your kitty’s nails trim, preventing sharp hooks and removing a lot of the pain you feel when they knead you.
  • Try diverting your cat’s attention by getting them interested in something else. The best cat toys are a great option, and there are also plenty of fun games to play with cats that can keep them occupied on something other than your lap.
  • We’ve already mentioned getting a cat scratching post, and you can lace this with catnip to make it super enticing. Catnip and cats are a match made in heaven, and most will flock to it quicker than bears to honey. Not only can they enjoy one of their favorite things,  their claws will be kneading something other than you.

If you love your cat being on your lap then place a thick blanket or cushion on your lap, and have your kitty curl up on that. This way you get to bond, they get to knead, and your lap escapes from it all unscathed!

Kathryn Rosenberg

Kathryn is a freelance writer with a passion for creating health and wellness, travel and wildlife content. Originally from New Zealand, her nomadic lifestyle has her currently fur baby-less. She scratches her pet parent itch by stealing frequent cuddles with any neighbourhood cat kind enough to indulge her.