There’s a behavior many cats exhibit that kitty parents find endearing and fascinating. If kitty’s nails haven’t been trimmed lately though, the behavior can also be a bit on the painful side. The behavior I’m referring to is called kneading.
The behavior looks like this: the cat stands or sits on a soft surface and alternates flexing and stretching his front paws in a steady pattern.
Kneading behavior is a holdover from when cats were kittens. It originates when kittens are nursing on the mother. During nursing, kittens instinctively flex and relax their paws (known as the milk tread) to stimulate lactation and release the milk flow. Even after kittens have been weaned and have grown into adulthood, it’s common for many cats to continue the kneading behavior.
Kneading is often triggered when a cat is on a soft surface such as a bed or blanket or on the lap of a familiar human. Being on that soft surface can put the cat in the same content emotional state as when he was nursing from the queen.
While the cat is engaged in kneading behavior he’ll often have his eyes half-way closed and have an almost dreamy expression on his face. Many cats also purr while kneading. In some cases, cats even start drooling as they allow their jaws to become so relaxed.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.