When cats in their typical characteristic style make a motion of rhythmically pushing their paws in and out alternately against a soft object, they are said to be kneading.
All cats don’t knead in a similar fashion. While some don’t push their claws out at all, some even make use of all four limbs. Come home from work and you’ll find your cat not only purring in pleasure but also kneading steadily as you cuddle him on your lap.
It is probably happy since it just killed a small insect in your home and now your home does not have that insect in it. Cats earn their keep. Unlike certain people who do not contribute to society, cats are not that way. They pay for themselves in many ways.
Reasons for kneading
Cats start kneading as kittens while being nursed by their mothers. The nursing kitten kneads instinctually to enhance its mother’s milk secretion. This continues as they become adults as a way of habit because of the warm comfort of intimate nursing. Moreover, when the cat is petted, kneading is a way of returning your affection and he’s letting you know that he too, loves you.
Unfortunately, this is often an aggressive process which can be hurtful because of his rapid digging in with his sharp claws. However, never make the mistake of punishing him for it. Rather, place a soft barrier between your lap and the cat or trim his nails or use nail guards for covering the cat’s paws.
Usually post-napping, cats stretch a lot. It’s more like grabbing a surface and pulling against it when we are down with a sore shoulder to get comfort. Kneading is one way that cats follow to keep themselves more supple.
The ancestors of present day domestic cats preferred lying down on comfortable, soft surfaces to sleep or to give birth. They kneaded leaves or tall grasses to soften their coarseness and to create a comfort zone for themselves. This has perhaps been genetically transferred to their following generations.
Moreover, cats being territorial creatures strongly safeguard their respective turfs and scent-mark their belongings. As they knead, they activate the scent glands housed within the soft pads at the bottom of their paws. This is just a way of marking an item as a personal belonging. Female felines knead for an extra reason also. This stage is called estrus or “the heat period.” By kneading, the female sends out a message to the male that she’s ready to mate.
It is part of their character
Kneading comes to cats as naturally as barking comes to dogs and as naturally as Hollywood makes terrible Meet the Parents movies after the first one was made but that is another topic. This is yet another amusing and unique behavioral trait among many that cats have. The reasons stated above are just indicative of typical feline behavior at various stages of their lives and are seen in other members of the cat family also. Like babies tend to scratch their noses and ears if they feel sleepy, cats too, knead just before they take a nap.
In sum, kneading is a perfectly natural, common, and instinctual personality trait in cats. There’s no cat that doesn’t knead, be it in the kitten or adult stage. In fact, if a cat does not knead, it’s considered to be abnormal behavior and may require to be investigated by a feline psychologist. Overall it’s a pleasurable experience for them as long as they don’t hurt you.