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November 1, 2018 |4 min read |Veterinarian Reviewed

Why Does Your Cat "Knead" You?

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If you have a companion cat, then you have most likely felt them knead you. Well sure, your cat needs you, but we are talking about that pawing they do on your chest, stomach, legs - or whatever area suits them. It's totally adorable, but why do cats do this? And what does it mean when you are kneaded by your furry friend?

What Is Cat Kneading?

According to PetMD:
Kneading is the motion cats make by rhythmically alternating their paws, pushing in and out against a pliable, soft object (such as a lap). Not all cats knead in the same way; some never push out their claws at all, and some even use all four paws.
Some of the kneading is accompanied by the wonderful sounds of your cat purring and sometimes, you will just feel your cat's paws pressing against you.

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Why Do Cats Knead You?

Cat Kneading Shoulder
Believe it or not, no one really knows why cats knead their owners and other people. However, there are a few theories - some may be valid and some have been disproved.

Taken Away Too Soon

One of the theories that have been proven to be false is that cats knead because they were weaned too early or taken away from their mothers too soon. You can probably imagine why this one gained ground because cats knead at their mother's nipples when they are nursing. However, it was shown that cats that stayed at the normal natural time with their mother still perform this kneading ritual.

Your Cat Loves You

Of courseyour cat loves you, but kneading is a gesture of love and this theory seems to hold a little weight to it. Since the pads of your cat's paws contain scent glands, it is a form of marking their spot and if they love you, they may just be marking you as well - telling the rest of the world to back off. Your cat is claiming you as their person and that's a thing to cherish.

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It's an Ancient Practice

Sure, cats have been kneading since there were cats in the world so this theory makes sense but it doesn't explain the reason for it. It only explains that "hey, cats have always done this and always will." 

A Rewards Program

We all love rewards and cats are no different. Cats learn to knead as kittens and as mentioned before, they get milk this way. This type of kneading garners them the reward that may have carried over into adulthood. The very act of kneading is embedded into their brains that knead equals reward.

Just Enjoy It

Cat Kneading Human
Since there is no quantifiable reason why cats knead their companions, there is nothing wrong with just enjoying it. Some people do not like the claws that inevitably sometimes comes with the kneading but you can make sure his nails are trimmed and place something in between you if it gets too intense. 
Make sure not to punish your cat for this behavior. For one, he is expressing love as far as we know and secondly, he doesn't realize he is hurting you. 
Does your cat knead you? Tell us all about it in the comments.
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Christina Scamporrino is a lifelong animal lover and began working in the petcare space in 2019. Christina’s passion for the community of feline owners and enthusiasts have led her to designing premium packaging for PrettyLitter cat litter, PrettyPlease dry food, wet food, and treats, and a litter box designed to solve common litter box issues.

Outside of her professional work in the petcare space, Christina is a longtime kitten foster and has worked with several cat rescues throughout Southern California. When given the option, she favors orange cats, but loves all cats equally.


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Geoff DeWire

PrettyLitter's Veterinarian in Chief Dr. Geoff DeWire graduated UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2007 where he earned the Pfizer Clinical Achievement Award for Excellence in Veterinary Medicine.

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