A good massage can incorporate a variety of techniques, from deep tissue work to compression to gliding. And while your cat probably isn’t the best massage therapist (we’ve got one word for you—claws), chances are, they have experience with at least one classic massage technique—and that’s kneading.
Kneading is a fairly common behavior in cats—but it’s also a puzzling one. What, exactly, is your cat doing—and why do they feel the need to knead you?
What is kneading?
So, before we jump into some of the reasons your cat may be kneading you, let’s quickly cover what kneading is.
The term “kneading” refers to when your cat pushes his paws down on a soft surface, alternating paws—similar to the way you would knead dough before putting it in the oven (hence the name). Some cats knead, some don’t. Some cats use their claws, some knead without claws. Some cats knead their humans, some cats stick to softer surfaces, like blankets or carpet—it all depends on the cat.
Why does my cat knead me?
Now that we know what kneading is, let’s talk about why your cat might be kneading you.
There’s no one-size-fits-all explanation to kneading (or to why some cats knead constantly while others knead infrequently or not at all). There are, however, a number of reasons that might be behind your cat’s kneading behavior:
Your cat is kneading on instinct
Kneading is one of a kitten’s first instinctual behaviors; they knead their mothers as a way to stimulate milk production and get the nourishment they need. So, to a kitten, the equation goes something like this:
kneading = milk = nourishment = healthy cat
So, in many ways, kittens are rewarded for their kneading behavior. And even though the reward stops once they stop nursing, they still have positive associations with the behavior—and may continue it out of habit (except now they’re kneading you instead of their mother).
Your cat is marking their territory
Cats have scent glands on the bottom of their paws, which they use to mark their territory. Kneading is a way to activate those glands—so, when your cat is kneading your lap or shoulder, what they might be doing is marking you as “theirs” (and letting other cats know to keep their paws off you).
Your cat is getting their stretch on
Everyone needs a good stretch every now and then—and that includes your cat. Kneading and pressing their paws against a surface could just be your cats way of getting a good stretch throughout their muscles. In that case, you might consider kneading a form of feline yoga!
Your cat is getting ready for bed
Today, cats are domesticated—but their ancestors weren’t! Wild cats would knead the grass as a way to make the ground more comfortable before grabbing some shut-eye. So, if you notice your cat kneading the blanket before they go to sleep, they may be mimicking the behavior of their great-great-grandcats.
Your cat is showing you some love
Does your cat have a tendency to knead when you’re petting them—and when they’re purring happily? If so, the kneading could just be a way for your cat to show you a little love! Cats have plenty of ways they show affection—and depending on the situation, kneading could be one of them.
Is kneading a problematic behavior?
So, there are plenty of reasons your cat might be kneading you—but the question is, is kneading a problematic behavior?
And the answer is probably not. Unless your cat’s kneading seems obsessive, it’s a pretty harmless behavior. If your cat uses their claws when they knead, keeping their nails short and trimmed can help make it a more pleasant experience.
There’s no clear answer as to why your cat is kneading you. So the best thing you can do is chalk it up to another interesting, strange feline behavior—and sit back and enjoy your cat massage.