Dear Doctor: Why Kneading?


Q. I know my cat feels good when she kneads on my chest because she purrs gently and also does it rhythmically and calmly. But why kneading? How did that develop in cats as a go-to for expressing relaxed contentment?

Rhea Gowers
Brooklyn, New York

Dear Ms. Gowers,

A. You’re definitely right that your cat is happy when she kneads. Kittens knead on their mother’s mammary glands when it’s time to feed — it stimulates the movement of milk from the glands to the teats. So adult cats probably associate that movement with warm, satisfying feelings that feed their appetite for closeness and affection. Consider that most of their kneading happens on the caregivers on whom they depend, and with whom they have developed the closest relationships. Some cats even suckle on the area they’re kneading.

Some cats also knead before they nap — perhaps an instinct for flattening the area they’re going to sleep on. Others will knead something they consider theirs, like a special pillow or cushion. Maybe it’s a way of laying claim to objects that make them feel good.

As long as you’re good with the kneading and consider it part of your bonding time with your cat, let her have at it. You might just want to keep her nails trimmed. Some cats will knead for 10 or more minutes at a time, and it can get very uncomfortable if their claws are sharp.


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