All cat owners have experienced this at some point in their lives: Your cat picks your lap out of all the other warm spots in the house, sits down, and then begins to purr and knead your leg. Why do cats do this? Is there a specific need? Is there a reason to the odd behavior? Here’s why cats knead.
Kneading, for those a bit unsure what is being referred to here, is when your cat stretches their front paws out and moves them back and forth, sometimes extending their claws as they do this. Some owners refer to this as “making biscuits” as it does really look like your kitty is kneading dough.
The most common explanation has always been that kneading is a primal instinct that kittens use on their mother’s stomachs to help circulate milk. Popular belief explained the continued habit as a result of weaning too early, so kittens who still had an unhealthy need for their mother had the insatiable desire to knead, though that is pure bunk. Cats of all ages and all situations, even those never separated from their mothers, will continue to knead from time to time.
There is certainly something to the motherly connection that holds up though. Most cats tend to pick something soft and fluffy to knead, like a blanket or towel, and at times will even suck on the fabric similar to a toddler sucking their thumb. The behavior isn’t something to discourage though as it’s utterly harmless, and unlike a child in the human world, a cat that still kneads and suckles into adulthood isn’t a social faux pas to any other cats.
Scientifically, there may be further reasons for kitties to get the urge to start massaging their paws in places they seem to really enjoy, like their favorite armchair or owner’s leg. Cats have scent glands just about everywhere on their body it seems, and one such location happens to be the bottoms of their paws, specifically the pads. When they rub their paw pads in the kneading motion, it marks that location as their territory. Therefore, when your cat is taking an extended turn on your lap, they could very well be marking you as their property, specifically this wonderful warm spot on your leg.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with kneading as it’s just an instinctual behavior in cats. Don’t dissuade your cat from doing or and absolutely do not punish them for something that’s just natural to them. If you have a problem with it due to their claws either hurting you or puncturing your pant legs, you could do a few things to avoid the problem. One would be to gently hold their paws together, or you could distract them by petting or pulling out a favorite toy. One of the simplest options is to just keep a blanket handy that you can use as a buffer zone between the claws and your leg.
No matter how you choose to deal with your cat’s odd behavior, don’t worry that they’re acting strangely or demonstrating a personal trauma from their kittenhood. They’re just comfortable and want to chase that feeling. Who can say no to that?
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