Once upon a time, I had a blanket… And now it is completely destroyed! Well, it has a number of snags and holes anyway. A common behavior in cats is the motion of pushing their paws into something soft, alternating between the left and the right paw, which is called “kneading”. It is called this because they appear as if they were a baker kneading dough. I like to refer to it as “paw humping”. While some cats knead with their nails retracted, other cats fully extend them, which is what ultimately ruined all my favorite soft blankets and pillows. Thanks cats!
Kneading is a feline behavior that is very widely debated on. While it is instinctive, many people have different reasons why cats do this. Often accompanied by purring, we know that kneading is enjoyed by cats, and it even such a strong stress reliever that some cats begin to drool and become in a trance like state. As newborns and very young kittens, they knead their mother’s belly to stimulate milk flow to her nipples. There was theory that cats taken from their mother too soon continue this behavior into adulthood, though this has been disproved through observation of various cats. It is very uncommon for a cat not to knead, even as adults. There are many adult cats that still “suckle” soft material while kneading. Kneading is also something cats do right before laying down for a nap. They will push into grass, soft blankets, pillows, sofas, even the laps of their owners just before laying down. Though it is not completely understood why cats do this into adult ages, it is observed as a very pleasing thing that all cats enjoy.
In the scientific sense of kneading, cats have scent glands in the pads of their paws. When kneading, and even scratching, they leave behind a unique scent on the surface of the material which serves as a territorial marker. When a cat kneads in your lap, they are not only getting comfortable but leaving their kitty scent all over you, claiming you as theirs. If this is something your cat does on a regular basis, it is probably a good idea to keep your cat’s nails trimmed as it can be quite painful when they push all of their weight into your lap with their nails. This will also reduce them putting snags in blankets, pillows and other soft items while kneading. It is also very common for females to knead more frequently entering into their heat cycles. This form of kneading can happen on anything soft and is often accompanied with nails. Spaying will reduce this habit, but kneading is something that is instinctive and can never be untrained.
Depending on the cat, kneading can be very uncomfortable for the owner. Some cats will knead legs, bellies, and if you are a woman, I can tell you first hand that having nails pierce into your chest is not pleasant by any means. To ease this behavior off of you, you can keep a soft towel or blanket near the sofa or computer chair and place it on your lap for your cat to dig its nails into. You should never punish a cat for kneading.