Why cats knead with their paws, (c) 2011- 2016 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved
Why do cats tread or knead with their paws? “Happy paws” or “making biscuits” is taken as the sign of a contented kitty but why should this be such a “feel good” behavior for a feline? Kneading starts in kitten hood partly as a functional behavior. Nursing kittens purr and knead around their mother’s nipple while suckling. This pressing motion is thought to help release milk to the kittens. In the past it was believed that if kneading continued into adulthood a kitten may have been weaned too early; this theory is no longer well regarded since all adult cats knead no matter when they were weaned. Other theories contend that the cat is continuing functional behaviors by depositing scent onto a surface through scent glands located next to the paw pads. Then there is the “feel good” theory as in they do it because it feels good. Behaviors are reinforced simply because they are pleasurable.
One of the more endearing qualities of cat behavior is how wonderfully indulgent the simplest of actions appear when it is a cat that is performing them. For example, cat grooming is systematic, unhurried and most probably feels good enough that grooming another cat is a bonding experience. For another gratifying behavior; how about those frequent cat naps dictated by feline energy requirements? The satisfaction that comes along with the rest is luxuriously apparent. This brings up the point that functional behaviors can be pleasurable ones as well. Humans and non humans perform actions that serve both a biological necessity and offer satisfaction when carried out such as eating for nourishment and for taste. This takes us back to the “why’s” of kneading, that rhythmic pushing in and out of alternate paws may also feel good in and by itself and thereby be reinforced. (For a live visual of the delights of kneading a look at Cinnamon in action is worth a 1,000 words.) We also cannot rule out whatever pleasurable memories are evoked by kneading; perhaps kitten hood and the comfort of a kitten’s mother are recalled while kneading.
Kneading is a natural and pleasurable behavior for a cat. It is possible that done excessively along with fabric sucking this may signal displacement or stress depending on the context and history. Caution needs to be exercised on deciding on this, since again, it may also simply be yet another pleasurable behavior for the cat. Most cat owners and cats would agree that when it comes to their felines care should be exercised on deciding on just what “excessive” is for a cat.