Anyone who has ever spent time around a happy, relaxed cat or one that was looking for attention will be aware that happy cats like to knead, using their front paws to almost march on the spot from foot to foot while retracting and flexing their claws. Few other animal owners can say that their pet shows the highest form of affection and regard for them by sticking their claws into them, but that is part of what makes cats so unique as pets!
If you have ever wondered why your cat is so keen on kneading, or as it is sometimes called in America by cat lovers, “making biscuits” (which in British English would be “making scones,” as in kneading dough) this article will provide some insight into this common cat behaviour, as well as share some tips on how to keep your delicate skin safe from needle-sharp claws while still allowing your cat to behave naturally! Read on to learn more.
Kneading is one of the earliest activities or behaviours that cats display, and they begin doing it before they even open their eyes or begin to hear. Kittens scent out their queen’s milk ducts to find their nipples in order to nurse, and when they are nursing, using their front paws and their little kitten claws to knead the belly of the queen helps to increase the flow of milk, allow the kitten to latch on fully, and generally, help to increase the milk yield.
While kneading starts off as a method of getting more milk, the fact that a nursing kitten is content, happy and feels safe and comfortable means that in very short order, the kneading becomes associated with these feelings in the kitten’s mind, turning it into a behaviour that they will continue to exhibit throughout the rest of their lives.
Cats will automatically start to knead sometimes if you are stroking them, they are on your lap or are settling down into their bed for a nap, and this kneading is instinctive and happens without the cat giving it any conscious thought. However, it is not an involuntary action like breathing is-the cat can start and stop kneading at will without having to give it any particular thought!
In unneutered cats, kneading also forms a part of the mating ritual-the male cat will knead the female, often quite roughly, as part of preparation for mating. This type of kneading does not present itself in neutered cats, for obvious reasons!
Because cats associate kneading with a whole plethora of good feelings-safety, warmth, companionship, comfort, rest, happiness and many others-it is safe to say that a cat that is kneading is feeling all of those things! Unlike purring, which cats sometimes use as a method of self-soothing when they are stressed, scared or hurt, cats do not knead unless they are happy, expectant or otherwise feeling good things!
This means that if your cat is kneading you then they are letting you know that they are happy and comfortable with you, and this is a very high compliment-although it might feel as if they are sticking you with multiple sharp needles!
Cats do not have to be being petted or sitting on someone’s lap in order to begin kneading-any situation that triggers feelings of happiness, comfort and relaxation can cause it! This might manifest if you have two cats that cuddle up together, in that you may see them kneading each other-and if you have a dog that your cat gets on well with, they may even do it to the dog!
A great many cats also knead their beds, blankets and other resting spots as part of settling down to sleep, helping them to arrange their bedding in just the way they want it, and mark the bed as theirs using the scent glands in the pads of the paws.
If your cat’s kneading makes you wince because their claws are so sharp and you find yourself left afterwards with red pinprick injuries from their claws, don’t despair! There are various different approaches that you might want to consider to allow your cat to manifest their kneading behaviour with you, without risking injury.
First of all, it is a good idea to trim your cat’s front claws-just nipping off the ends of the claws can help to make being kneaded less painful. Additionally, keeping a small towel or blanked on or near the sofa to cover your lap or shoulder when your cat is in the mood for a hug can help to protect your skin too.