Cat Behavior Kneading
"Cat behavior kneading is a natural part of the way cats act. Kneading behavior starts when a cat is young and instinctively uses its paws to draw milk from the queen or mother. Later on this behavior is transferred to others that your cat has affection for. Kneading can also represent negative behaviors such as signaling when urine is going to be sprayed or when a male is mating a female cat or redirecting this behavior toward its owner."
Cat kneading behavior is thought to be an inherited trait. It is a natural behavior of kittens who knead or press their paws against the mothers stomach in order to stimulate the secretion of milk.
Kneading behavior is thought to be the sign of a content cat, although excessive kneading of a person such as when you are in bed can be aggravating for the owner. If a cat is kneading it's paws into a person it is thought to mean that the cat is not only comfortable with you, but may have adopted you as a mother figure.
Since the nails retract and extend during kneading, you might want to make sure the nails are properly trimmed in order to avoid scratching.
Video of Cat Kneading a Person
Kneading also occurs when the cat is preparing what appears to be a nest such as kneading their paws into a soft blanket. This could be a holdover from outdoor cats who needed to create a space in the wild.
Cat Behavior Kneading in FemalesIn female cats kneading occurs during the heat or estrus cycle. If the reproductive organs are removed, the kneading and other associated behaviors such as restlessness and howling should stop as well.
Cat Behavior Kneading in MalesKneading could be construed as part of the mating ritual in male cats. The behavior starts with kneading a human for several minutes, often when you are stroking your cat. You will notice your cat start to purr with his paws increasing in both speed and pressure. Some cats will even start to salivate.
If you don't intervene by moving away, your male cat may become more aggressive thinking that it is mating with a female cat (in this case you). Unfortunately this aggressiveness could include its nails deeply digging into your skin, a normal mating behavior. If you try to move away, some cats will actually attack its owner.
To correct aggressive kneading behavior you should consider:
1. Neutering your cat
2. Establish Play Behavior with Objects such as Toys - To correct this behavior you first need to add more structure to play time. One approach is to plan two play sessions a day, in morning and night. Structure play around a toy or string so that aggressive behavior is directed away from people.
3. Change the way you pet your cat - If you feel like your cat is starting to engage in one of the negative behaviors described above then don't stroke you cat with long strokes. Use short strokes that are quick. Consider changing to a play activity using toys instead of sitting and stroking.
Kneading and Cat Urine SprayingA normal cat behavior is to spray urine against a vertical surface. Kneading of the paws is one of the behaviors associated with spraying. The trigger for spraying can be a new cat in the home, hormonal changes or changes in the seasons.
Sources for Cat Behavior KneadingCornell Feline Veterinary Center
Feline Aggression: Associations with Elimination Disorders and Complex Neurochemistry
Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, Diplomate ACVB, ABS Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
Psychiatry Department, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Philadelphia, PA, USA
Pet Behavior Resources