Why do cats knead? : Tails Of The City
Now that another "end of the world" has come and gone (and yep, they're all still here), I've decided it's time to tackle one of life's BIG questions: why do cats knead?
Whether you have cats at home or not, 93% of people living in the United States will experience it personally at least once in their lives (I just made up that statistic, but it sounds about right): Miss Kitty crawls, leaps or otherwise appears on your lap and begins rhythmically stamping your stomach with her paws. If you're lucky, the cat in question will knead you with her claws retracted, but some cats enjoy extending their claws as they push in and retracting them as they pull back. (Yeowch!)
Also known as a "cat dance," "paddling," "mouse massage" and "making biscuits," kneading harkens back to a time when wild cats patted down tall grass and leaves to make cozy nests. Cats will often choose a soft, pliable surface like a pillow, blanket, another pet or that extra bit around your middle as their preferred kneading surface before settling down for a catnap. This instinctive behavior is often accompanied by contented purring, and sometimes drooling as the cat sends herself into a trance-like state.
Although kneading is said to be a cat's way of expressing how she feels about you, the more practical explanation is that she is marking her territory (which sometimes are one and the same). Cats have scent glands in the soft pads on their paws, close to their claws. When they knead, some of their unique scent is released. We can't smell this scent, but it sends a message to other cats to "back off" because they are trespassing on private property.
Some female cats will knead just before going into heat as a sign of her ability to mate. She may also pace around the house, "mark" with urine, become extremely affectionate and assume the mating position (head low, with raised hindquarters) when you pet her. The best way to discourage these natural behaviors is to have your cat spayed.
Cats are also thought to knead as a way of comforting themselves. Newborn kittens knead their mother's belly as they snuggle close to nurse. Some cats will even "suckle" the corner of a pillow or blanket while they are kneading. One unpopular theory claims that cats knead as a result of being weaned from their mothers too early. Yet because nearly all adult cats knead, this seems unlikely to be true.
If your cat is an "over-achiever kneader" (especially if she likes to use her claws), its good incentive to trim her nails regularly, (use a toenail clipper to nip off the sharp, curved tip of each claw; just be careful not to cut the quick, where tiny blood vessels and nerves are located). You can also keep an old pillow or blanket next to your favorite chair to cushion your lap. To dissuade your cat from kneading you, try gently holding her front paws together, petting her or using a favorite toy or a treat as a distraction. Whatever you do, pet behavior experts agree that it's not appropriate to punish a cat for natural and instinctive behaviors like kneading.
If a cat uses her claws to scratch the furniture or pull at people and their clothing, a firm "No!" or a light squirt with a water bottle can be an effective deterrent. You can also reward your cat for stopping with a "good kitty!" and a treat.