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Does My Cat's Kneading Mean He's Needy?

When your kitty pushes back and forth with her front paws—and sometimes all four—against a blanket, sofa or your lap it's like she's marching in place, a gesture cats do when they're feeling relaxed and happy.

What exactly is kneading?

The act of kneading, which is sometimes referred to by a variety of more familiar terms, like “making biscuits,” “happy paws,” “massaging” or “samba dancing” actually indicates that your kitty is doing his own version of yoga or meditation. "Cats knead to comfort themselves. It’s a little like thumb-sucking in humans,” explains Lisa Eshman, a California-based vet and the Program Director of Veterinary Technology at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA.

Why do cat’s knead, anyway?

The origins of this behavior dates back to a kitten’s first days. Nursing kitties quickly discover that the repetitive pressure of pushing their front paws against their mother’s belly stimulates milk flow through the nipples. This is a kitten's first instinctive gesture and one that will determine the amount of nutrients she receives in her first four weeks of life.

Weaned too early?

While no one is exactly sure why the habit continues into adulthood, just like in humans the early imprint of food, warmth and protection is particularly strong and lasts for life. Though popular myth says cats who knead their pet parents and soft furniture and objects may have been weaned too soon, veterinary science says otherwise. “Excessive kneading is not associated with early weaning,” explains Dr. Eshman. “Some cats lose the behavior, while others retain it to demonstrate relaxation and pleasure.”

Not all cats knead the same way

You may have noticed that when your cat kneads he also purrs, signaling that the repetitive motion gives him a sense of well-being. But all cats don’t knead in exactly the same way. Some adopt a gentle tapping, eyes half closed, with a sweet expression on their face. Others lift and lower their paws with a more vigorous action, a lot like marching in place. Some knead with claws extended others keep them in. But no cat ever kneads with a will to harm or damage your things.

Should you try to break the kneading habit?

Even if it seems counterintuitive, you should not prevent your kitty from kneading. It’s instinctive and a clear indication that she is one happy kitty. But never fear, you can lessen the annoyance factor if your cat just loves to knead your heirloom hand-knotted rug or your tender thigh!

“Cats who do extend their claws when they knead can be managed by frequent claw trimming or rewarding the kitty when their claws are retracted,” concludes Dr. Eshman. But be assured that your kitty's habit means you can pat yourself on the back for giving your furry friend the most important thing—a happy home.