Source: iNews (Extract)
Posted: March 24, 2023

If you have a cat, you will have watched it “kneading” blankets, pillows, and the odd unwilling lap at some point.

This repeated massaging action is an evolutionary behaviour that is named for its resemblance to kneading dough.

And while some cats don’t knead that regularly, others flex their paws so often they end up doing themselves damage in a bewildering act of confusing compulsion.

Why does my cat knead me?

In most cases, a cat kneads when it feels comfortable.

As Julia Henning and Susan Hazel from University of Adelaide explain in an article for The Conversation: “Cats first begin to knead when just tiny kittens, still nursing from their mother.

“Kneading is associated with suckling, which helps stimulate a mother cat’s milk supply through the release of oxytocin, and likely evolved for this reason.”

“[It] also has another evolutionary advantage. It can be used as a form of tactile and pheromone communication between kitten and mother.”

Why do cats continue to knead into adulthood?

Indeed, pheromones are not only important for bonding between the mother and young. Cat-appeasing pheromones also have the potential to treat aggression in mature cats.

While cats learn to knead as kittens, it is a habit that many carry into adulthood as a result of a behaviour known as ‘neoteny’.

Henning and Hazel say “Neoteny is when an animal retains their juvenile physical or behaviour traits into adulthood.

“It’s likely these traits are advantageous for cats when needing to socialise with humans and other cats or animals in the household.”

When does it become unhealthy?

Some cats can start to knead compulsively, resulting in damaged paws, legs or mouth.

Henning and Hazel say that at this point you might need to visit a vet, as it “may be a sign your cat is stressed or in pain”.

Compulsive kneading has been found to be a more common problem for Siamese and Burmese cats in particular.

That being said, some cats don’t knead at all. Just like people, cats are individuals and like to show that they are comfortable or affiliated with their owners in their own ways.

How do I get my cat to stop kneading me?

Henning and Hazel explain that kneading is normal and potentially important for cat-owner bonding.

However, if the kneading starts to hurt your lap, they suggest you “invest in a thick blanket that you can cover your legs with.

“Avoid telling them off or kicking them off your lap.

“Instead, reward kneading where the claws are kept to a minimum by showing more attention via patting or handing out a food treat when your cat is kneading the way you would like them to.”