If you’re an experienced cat owner, you know the drill. You settle into a favorite chair and maybe throw a cozy comforter on your lap. Now you’re ready to read a book or watch a favorite TV show. Then the cat jumps up on your lap and promptly starts to knead the soft material over your legs. It throws in some adorable purring as a bonus.
Here are some adorable reasons for cats kneading behavior
- A Sign of Affection
- Achieve A Practical Goal
- Calm and relaxed
- Mark Territory
Forgetting all the science for a moment, most people think: “Ahh, this cat loves me so much and is so adorable!” As your furry friend works its gentle massage back and forth with tender ease, your sense of relaxation follows and completes the moment.
That’s all that matters.
Thus, most cat owners probably don’t care what behavioral scientists observe or theorize when they witness the peculiar activities of certain species of animal.
However, it is fascinating to explore the answers and conclusions of animal researchers who are curious about what makes critters click.
Yes, yes, we know: “Curiosity killed the cat!”
But Remember: “Satisfaction brought it back!”
So, let’s take a deeper dive into what scientists have to say about cats kneading behavior. Gaining greater insight into this fascinating behavior won’t make you love your cat less, and it may help you understand the motivations and psychology of your catty companion better.
Is Cat Kneading A Sign Of Affection?
Kittens generally stop feeding on mother’s milk after two months. This might seem like the need to knead should be over. However, as we all know, cats continue kneading behavior for the rest of their lives.
Why should that be the case? Scientists have also looked into this issue and have come away with further conclusions.
First of all, when kittens suckle from their mother using kneading behavior, it programs their brain with an enormous emotional reward.
The sensation of drinking milk, the comforting feeling of being cared for, and the sense of security problem hardwire the brains of kittens to associate kneading with the best feeling they can possibly experience.
In a sense, that feeling leaves an imprint on the brain of the cat. Cats that are adopted as pets transfer their feeling of being loved and safe from their mother to their human masters.
What does it mean when a cat kneads a blanket?
Consider that the ratio of the size of a tiny kitten to a mother cat is not far off from the ratio of the size between an adult cat and a person.
For a cat, it’s a seamless progression to slide out of primary care by a mother cat and into the care of a human being. It seems reasonable, then, that imprinted pleasurable behavior of kneading will be transferred to interactions with humans at the same time like kneading a blanket
3 Other Reasons why
Achieves a Practical Goal
One of the first behaviors exhibited by newborn kittens is kneading. If you observe closely, when kittens suckle at their mommy’s teat for a meal of warm milk, they place a tiny paw on either side of the teat and start the kneading motion.
This action stimulates the milk glands in the mommy cat and helps the milk flow out better. So, right away, we can observe that kittens are performing kneading behavior for a solid and practical reason. It helps them eat!
Scientists also say kneading is a way for kittens to communicate the fact that they’re hungry to their mothers. Kneading is almost always accompanied by purring. Cats purr as a signal for attention.
Calm and relaxed
But wait a minute. Cats knead in a variety of situations and not just when interacting with a beloved human owner. For example, it’s common to observe a cat kneading in a place he or she is intending to lie down.
It almost looks like they are “softening up” the place they intend to sleep – perhaps in the same way a person “fluffs up” a pillow before they lie down.
But scientists say the goal is not softening in the case. Rather, the cat is probably just feeling pleasantly calm as it prepares for a nap. Researchers have concluded that cats knead when they feel calm and relaxed.
Another likely outcome of kneading for cats is that it helps them mark their territory. It has been well established that cats like to place their scent on locations they consider as their personal territory.[Source]
In most cases, cats place scent by rubbing. That usually means with the sides of their face. Those who have studied cat anatomy have identified specific glands in these facial locations.
Cats also rub with their whole bodies. Head bunting is another example. Again, these are more ways to get their personal scent on a place they want to claim as their own.
Kneading is almost certainly yet another way for a cat to tag a location with its scent.
Why Do Cats Knead On Their Owners?
Keep in mind that human beings have interacted with cats in a cooperative way for many thousands of years.
According to an article published in Scientific American, the earliest known example of a cat-human relationship was found on the island of Cyprus. A burial was discovered there in which a person had been interred together with a cat along with other offerings.[Source]
This site was dated to 7,500 B.C., about 9,500 years ago.
The first full-scale adoption of cats as being integrated into society occurred in ancient Egypt. It was in ancient Egypt that the first true domesticated cats emerged as we know them today. Scientists say thousands of years of breeding by Egyptians created a new species of cat that left behind their wilder natures and attributes to make them excellent household companions.
The Egyptians also famously deified cats and integrated them into their rich theological framework of gods, goddesses, and everything they held as sacred.
A Symbiotic Cat-Human Relationship Emerges
The cat-to-human relationship is similar to what biologists call a “symbiotic relationship” between two species. That means each species chooses to interact with the other because they both get something out of it.
For example, cowbirds hand out on the backs of cattle because it’s a good place to catch and eat flies. The cows don’t mind because it lowers the number of biting insects on their backs.
In ancient times, cats assist humans by doing an excellent job of killing vermin – such as mice, rats, moles, weasels, gophers, and other such critters that do damage to human property. The Egyptians loved cats because they kept rats and mice from eating their stores of grain and they also got rid of disease-carrying rats.
Cats can even kill poisonous snakes.
In return for killing rodents and other pests of humans, cats obtained a variety of benefits in return, including better shelter, extra food, help with keeping their young safe – and yes – love and attention.
A Deeper Psychological Factor Evolves
It is highly significant to note that what started as a purely practical or utilitarian relationship evolved over time in terms of the psychological needs of human beings.
As cats and people continued to live in close proximity century after century, people began to associate cats with the same kinds of feelings they felt for their fellow humans.
It was natural to start giving cats names, for example. That had the effect of elevating the personality of a cat into something more than “just another animal.”
The companionship factor also cannot be underestimated. For whatever reason, some people find themselves living alone or without a lot of intimate human companionship.
It’s clear that a cat can fill this psychological need for many people.
How It All Comes Together
So, the amazing relationship we witness today between two completely different species — primates (human beings) and felines (cats) – is the result of thousands of years of interaction that combines basic biological behavior with an ever-deepening psychological component.
It’s marvelous to ponder that when a cat jumps up on your lap or joins you on the bed at night – and starts kneading and purring as they prepare to settle down with you – it is the result of a grand journey that has been taken down through the corridors of time and history by two companionable species.
Cats and people have chosen to walk hand-in-paw together in a relationship that is as much about love as it is about the pure biological behaviors studied by scientists.