Psychology & Cat Behavior
We consulted Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. Mikel has worked professionally with cats for almost twenty years, starting in the Cat Behavior Program of the San Francisco SPCA, and more recently through her cat behavior consulting partnership, Feline Minds. She’s also co-author with Jackson Galaxy of the 2017 book “Total Cat Mojo,” and has published her research in several academic journals.
Why do cats knead?
As kittens, kneading is for survival.
The treading movement against the mother cat’s mammary glands helps stimulate the release of milk. However, past a nursing age, we still see adult cats continue to knead.
As adults, kneading is a sign of relaxation.
We believe that this behavior reveals itself when your cat is feeling happy and cozy -- much like they did when they were a baby and with their mom. Maybe you’re petting your cat or they are in your lap. Kneading is likely to just be a sign that your cat is comfortable and feeling safe - like they did when their mom was caring for them.
Cats Kneading Blankets or Soft Objects
Cats who knead blankets or soft objects, like pillows or cushions, are channeling the same level of cozy and contentment they had while they were kittens. There's nothing wrong with kneading behavior, and honestly, it makes for some great content.
Cats Kneading Humans
If your cat is kneading you, for example your lap, or tummy, it's because they're feeling extra comfortable with you. Not every cat parent gets to experience this little miracle though, so consider yourself #blessed.
That said: if your cat's nails are also a part of the kneading action, you might feel more #stressed. If your cat is kneading on you, and it hurts (those claws!), you can limit the damage by placing a fleece blanket (or your cat’s preferred blanket) on your lap. You can also train your cat to accept routine nail trims to dull those sharp edges.
Other reasons for kneading
Aside from feeling cuddly, cats can also knead when they're in need of a good stretch. Cats can also knead to "mark" an area as theirs, by steadily kneading their pheromones into a surface.