Why Do Cats Knead?

You’re reading a newspaper when suddenly your cat jumps onto your lap. She’s purring and begins to knead your lap, circling around and finding a perfect position to curl into. She is completely oblivious to your desires as she focuses on the push and pulls of her front paws. She’s your cat, and she has a need to knead.  

Why cats knead 

The kneading behavior begins early in life, while kittens are nursing. As kittens knead their mother’s mammary glands, oxytocin is released, causing milk to flow. Animal experts believe other reasons cats  knead might include:  

  • To show affection  
  • To mark territory: Cats have scent glands between their toes on their front paws 
  • Separated from mother too early  

Kneading represents a period of comfort and safety for kittens as they snuggle up with their mothers and siblings during nursing. Cats continue this behavior to display affection toward others later in life. It also serves as a self-comforting behavior, bringing a feeling of contentment for adult cats. Similar to a child who sucks his thumb long after his mother has stopped nursing, a cat’s kneading helps him to feel comfortable and bonded to you. It’s his way of relaxing with you.  

Cats leave scent from special interdigital scent glands when they knead. This suggests that kneading helps to mark an area as safe. Cats have high-level olfactory senses, and like feline aromatherapy, the cat is working to make your lap smell familiar and relaxing. Kittens who are weaned from their mothers too early (prior to 10 weeks of age) are more likely to display kneading behavior as adults.  

How to change your cat’s kneading behavior 

Not a fan of your cat’s kneading on your lap? Experts agree that you should not punish your cat if he kneads. If the kneading bothers you, try to redirect your cat to a soft surface nearby. When he begins to knead on your lap, gently move him to a soft blanket or pillow, pet him, and give him treats so he is encouraged to knead that particular soft surface. It’s important to remember that, just like you have certain comforting behaviors, kneading is normal, comforting behavior for many cats. So sit back, relax,  and let your kitty make a comfy spot in that lap of yours.