It's a behavior that starts as tiny kittens before their eyes even open, according to experts.

There's no sight more endearing than to see your cat stretch out her paws and begin "kneading" what's in front of her. A cat kneads in much the same way a baker works soft dough, using a pushing motion with her front paws, alternating between left and right. They will often purr while doing this, and the whole experience is pleasant and relaxing.

Tabby cat kneading her cushion
Credit: Silvia Jansen / Getty Images

"Cats knead when they're kittens to stimulate milk production in the mother cat. The action pushes the mother's skin away from their mouth as it stimulates the milk flow," explains Cathy Bosley, certified feline training and behavior specialist at the Best Friends Animal Society. "We call this 'kneading' because it mimics the actions that we use when we knead bread or biscuits."

Kneading behavior appears in adult cats for different reasons. Like us, cats will sometimes get nervous, scared, or worried. "If they are in unfamiliar territory, such as a vet's office, some cats may knead bedding to help them relax and calm them down," Bosley says. It is a repetitive action that reminds them of a time when they felt safe and comforted.

But kneading can also be a sign that your cat is happy—especially when you have a plush new blanket on your lap and your cat is getting settled in for a nap. It's probably as comforting for you as it is for them. Kneading will sometimes be accompanied by purring. The rhythmic motions from their purring and kneading create a sense of calm that may be followed by a peaceful sleep.

It's also no surprise that the kneading motion stimulates a sense of comfort in human caretakers. Cats that stretch out their claws when they knead might cause a little bit of pain, but that is easily remedied if you place a blanket or towel over your lap. Light, gentle kneading feels like a massage and could lull us to sleep alongside our contented feline friends.


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