Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insuranc...

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Melanie Musson is the fourth generation in her family to work in the insurance industry. She grew up with insurance talk as part of her everyday conversation and has studied to gain an in-depth knowledge of state-specific car insurance laws and dynamics as well as a broad understanding of how insurance fits into every person’s life, from budgets to coverage levels. She also specializes in automa...

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Reviewed by Melanie Musson
Published Insurance Expert

UPDATED: Nov 18, 2020

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It is a bittersweet irony that love hurts – or at least the love of an ecstatic cat “making puddings” on your lap hurts.

You know the sort of thing: the soppy faced cat, quite possibly drooling with happiness, as she rhythmically pushes one front paw then the other into the skin of your thigh. The trouble is those claws can hurt, and the more lurrrrvving your cat is, the more painful it gets.

Why do cats knead?

This is a good question and, in all honesty, behaviorists have yet to get inside the mind of a cat to learn a definite answer. From our observations as pet parents, kneading is associated with pleasure, but what else do we know? Let’s take a look, on a strictly “knead to know” basis, at why cats knead.

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Theory 1: The Milk Tread

The official name for that happy, treading motion is the “milk tread,” which we also known as “kneading dough” and “making biscuits.” It’s thought this action has its roots in suckling. The rhythmic push of the paws triggers a reflex in the mother cat that leads to a release of the hormone prolactin which, in turn, stimulates her to release milk into her nipples.

But less well-known is the fact that a kitten kneading her mother’s milk bar serves a secondary benefit of pushing the skin back from the nipple. This makes it easier for the kitten’s tiny mouth to latch onto the nipple while helping the milk flow more quickly (greedy little thing!).

The kitten then learns to associate the act of kneading with the pleasurable sensation of suckling, which also releases endorphins (natural morphine) which give kitty a natural high.

OK, with that in mind, who’s up for some kitten suckling trivia? Thought so! Here we go.

  • At just three days old, 80% of newborn kittens prefer to suckle from a particular nipple on the mummy milk bar.
  • The rear nipples yield the most milk (hence kittens that suckle at the rear tend to grow bigger more quickly).
  • Young kittens suckle for around eight hours a day.
  • Use it or lose it: If a nipple isn’t used for three days, the milk dries up.

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cat and kitten kneading

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Theory 2: Scent Marking

This second theory is about comforting smells. Cats use scent as a means of communication; they recognize who has passed by, whose territory it is, and what belongs to them.

Cats love the comforting smells of home, which is why it’s a wise vet who examines a fractious cat while letting them sit in the bottom half of their carrier. This is also why cats “bunt” (or head bump) against our shins because they’re busy marking us as their human.

So when it comes to kneading, the cat is transferring scent from the glands and sweat glands on the underside of her paw onto whatever it is she’s kneading. This makes it smell nice and familiar and marks it out as hers.

Some scent-related trivia:

  • The olfactory part of a cat’s brain is larger than a human’s but smaller than a dog’s.
  • A cat’s olfactory bulb contains 67 million cells, while a human’s contains 52 million.

Theory 3: Bedding Down

This theory goes back to the beginnings of cat evolution and them settling down in a bed of leaves by turning around and around. A combination of scraping the leaves into an appealing bed, and marking it with their scent, so they feel safe. This is perhaps the least convincing of all the arguments, but heck – who knows!

Asking why cats knead to need is similar to asking why cats purr: Because they’re happy. Maybe we need to take a lesson from cats and learn to let things be and live in the moment, without kneading to have an answer to everything.

Other articles you may find helpful: 

 

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The Best Pet Insurance By State 

What Is Pet Insurance?

Fun Facts, Dog FAQ, And Unsolicited Dog Advice

5 Training Commands to Save Your Dog’s Life

The Ultimate Guide to Safe Foods for Dogs

Dog Health Problems

Dog Breeds

CAT FAQ

Cat Health Problems

Cat Breeds

 

We have worked hard to provide you with all the free resources possible to help give you insight into the best pet insurance for cats, additional cat breeds info, common cat health issues, and a fun look at frequently asked cat questions.

 

Other Frequently asked cat questions and some unsolicited catty advice… 

Why do cats groom so much?

Why your cat ignores you when you call it?

How to stop your cat from scratching the carpet?

Can you make a feral cat a pet?

Why does my cat pee outside the litter box? 

Why do people walk their cats on a leash?

Why do cats need to knead? 

4 Ways to prepare for a new kitten

DIY cool cat toys

10 hidden hazards for indoor cats

Why changing your cat’s food is risky

Apple cider vinegar for cats