Cats knead and purr on their owners for several reasons. The kneading and purring behaviors are instinctual for cats and can have origins in kittenhood. Understanding why cats knead and purr can help owners better bond with their feline friends.
Why Do Cats Knead?
Kneading, sometimes referred to as “making biscuits,” is a common cat behavior. When cats knead, they rhythmically push in and out with their front paws, alternating between left and right. They often purr while kneading. This behavior dates back to kittenhood.
When kittens are nursing, they knead their mother’s belly to stimulate milk production. The motion of pushing in and out while suckling helps milk flow. Even after kittens are weaned, they continue kneading to show contentment. As cats mature, they continue to knead into adulthood.
Kneading is an instinctive behavior that provides comfort and contentment for cats. When your cat kneads on you, it is a form of bonding and an expression that your cat is happy and feels secure with you. It often occurs when sitting in your lap. Some signs your cat is content when kneading include:
- Kneading rhythmically
- Sitting comfortably in your lap or bed
- Slow blinking eyes
- Having a relaxed body posture
While kneading usually occurs when your cat is calm, some cats may knead when anxious or distressed. Signs of this can include:
- Kneading aggressively or erratically
- Meowing persistently
- Appearing tense in body posture
- Heavy breathing
- Dilated pupils
If your cat seems distressed while kneading, it may be better to set them down or divert their attention until they are calm again. It is best not to encourage kneading when your cat seems anxious, as it may reinforce the anxious behavior.
Why Do Some Cats Excessively Knead?
While most cats will knead to some degree, some cats exhibit excessive, relentless kneading. This can occur on furniture, carpets, or owners’ laps. Excessive kneading may indicate:
- Weaning Too Early: Kittens removed from their mother before 7-8 weeks may knead persistently into adulthood due to early weaning.
- Lack of Bonding: Kittens that do not properly bond with their mother and littermates may see their owner as a surrogate and compulsively knead.
- Stress and Anxiety: Kneading helps cats relieve stress. Excessive kneading may signal high anxiety levels.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: In rare cases, excessive kneading may be a sign of OCD or another psychological condition.
- Medical Issues: Conditions like arthritis, skin allergies, and dental disease can cause discomfort leading to excessive kneading.
Consult with your veterinarian if your cat excessively kneads even when relaxed. Underlying physical or behavioral causes may need treatment.
Why Do Cats Purr?
In addition to kneading, purring is another common cat behavior. Purring consists of rapid vibrations in a cat’s throat, often resulting in a low, rumbling sound. Cats purr for various reasons.
Cats most commonly purr when they are calm, comfortable, and content. Situations where purring indicates happiness include:
- Being petted or stroked by their owner
- Sitting in a favorite spot or sunbathing
- Eating or sniffing favorite foods
- Exploring interesting environments
A content, relaxed cat often kneads and purrs simultaneously. The combination of kneading and purring is a sign your cat feels safe and bonded with you.
Some studies suggest a cat’s purr may contribute to healing and pain relief. Purring creates vibrations at a frequency range of 20-140 Hz. This range can:
- Aid bone density and muscle strength
- Reduce stiffness in muscles and joints
- Have a calming effect by releasing endorphins
When injured or ill, cats may purr to help their bodies heal. The vibrations generated can be therapeutic. Some veterinary hospitals even use purr-like devices to help cats recover from surgery.
Cats use purring to communicate with humans and other cats. Purrs during social interactions may serve purposes like:
- Greeting owners or strangers
- Showing friendliness and approachability
- Putting other cats at ease
- Requesting food, attention, or other resources
Kittens purr to get attention from their mothers. Adult cats use “solicitation purrs” to politely ask for something from owners or other cats.
Cats may also purr in stressful situations to help soothe themselves. Purring produces endorphins and other calming hormones that reduce stress. Purring during moments like vet visits, car rides, or new environments helps cats stay relaxed.
Why Do Cats Knead and Purr Together?
Kneading and purring often happen simultaneously because they are linked cat behaviors. Both originate in kittenhood and become comforting habits into adulthood. When cats knead and purr together, it generally signals contentment and happiness.
Possible reasons cats commonly knead and purr together include:
- Nursing Association: Kittens knead to stimulate milk then purr while nursing. The behaviors become linked.
- Soothing Effect: The motions of kneading combined with purring’s vibrations calm and comfort cats.
- Contentment: Kneading and purring are displays of happiness and security when cats feel safe.
- Social Bonding: Kittens purr and knead on mothers. Adults continue this with human companions.
If your cat is kneading and purring in your lap, it is a sign they feel safe and bonded with you. It is an instinctive way cats show affection and contentment stemming from their maternal relationships as kittens. Enjoy these special moments of connection with your feline friend.
When to Discourage Kneading and Purring
While kneading and purring are usually positive behaviors, there are some cases when you may want to discourage these actions, such as when:
- The cat is kneading or purring excessively and compulsively, indicating distress
- Kneading becomes painful due to sharp claws
- The cat kneads or purrs at inappropriate times, like late at night
- Kneading damages furniture, carpets, or other household items
- You need to medicate or handle the cat, and the purring makes it challenging
To discourage kneading and purring:
- Put a little water in a spray bottle. Give a light spritz when your cat kneads where unwanted.
- Provide designated “kneading pads” or “purr pillows” to redirect the behavior.
- Trim your cat’s nails regularly to reduce scratching from kneading.
- Never punish or startle your cat, as this can damage trust.
- Consult your vet if excessive kneading or purring continues despite deterrents.
With patience and gentle training, you can curb unwanted kneading and purring. Always approach it in a calm, positive manner to preserve your bond with your cat.
How to Encourage Kneading and Purring
Since kneading and purring signal cat happiness, we want to encourage these behaviors through positive reinforcement. Some tips to promote kneading and purring include:
- Pet and stroke your cat when they knead or purr to reinforce the behavior.
- Reward with treats for kneading acceptable surfaces like kitty beds or cat towers.
- Ensure your cat has places they enjoy kneading, like soft blankets.
- Maintain a stress-free home environment to facilitate purring.
- Give your cat affection and quality time to encourage content purring.
- Avoid scolding or deterring your cat when possible.
With time and consistency, you can shape when and where your cat kneads and purrs. Building up desirable surfaces while limiting unwanted areas will soon have your cat directing these behaviors appropriately.
Other Cat Behaviors Associated with Kneading and Purring
In addition to often occurring together, kneading and purring may happen along with other positive cat behaviors, such as:
- Blinking Slowly: Also called “cat kisses,” slow blinking shows contentment.
- Licking: Gentle licks on owners show affection.
- Rubbing: Rubbing against legs or furniture deposits scent and shows comfort.
- Laying Nearby: Lounging nearby is a sign of trust.
- Grooming: Self-grooming or grooming you displays ease.
Some behaviors to watch for that may indicate anxiety, fear, or distress rather than contentment include:
- Whipping or swishing tail
- Pinned back ears
- Hissing or growling
- Hiding or running away
- Agitated body language
- Aggressively grabbing with claws
Understanding your cat’s unique cues takes time. Observing their whole body language and signals provides insight into their kneading and purring. Over time, you will recognize when these behaviors reflect happiness versus distress.
Should I Be Concerned About Excessive Kneading or Purring?
While most kneading and purring are normal, excessive levels may require veterinary attention. Consult your vet if your cat shows signs like:
- Kneading to the point of injury, like bleeding paws or claws
- Kneading for over an hour nonstop
- Yowling or acting frantic while kneading
- Kneading hard enough to cause pain or damage furniture
- Purring constantly at inappropriate times like hiding or hissing
Compulsive kneading or purring that continues despite deterrents could indicate:
- Underlying medical issue, like dementia or arthritis
- Separation anxiety or obsessive disorder
- Stress due to changes, like new home or pet
- Decline in eyesight or hearing causing insecurity
If excessive kneading or purring arises suddenly, schedule a veterinary visit. Treating underlying physical or behavioral causes is important.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does my cat knead me but not my spouse?
Cats often knead their favorite person or “preferred” owner they feel closest with. It is a sign of bonding. Less kneading on other family members doesn’t necessarily signify dislike. The cat likely just has a stronger connection with their “chosen” person.
Why does my cat insist on kneading my hair or face?
Some cats, especially kittens removed from moms too early, see their owner as a maternal figure. Kneading hair and face mimics how they’d knead their mother’s fur and skin as kittens. While meaning well, redirect this kneading onto blankets or cat toys instead.
Is it OK for cats to knead with their claws out?
Kittens knead mom’s belly with claws to hold on while nursing. This instinct remains in adulthood. It’s ok if claws are present when kneading but be cautious of sharp points. Keep claws trimmed and redirect to appropriate scratching surfaces.
Why does my cat only purr and knead on fleece blankets?
Cats often prefer plush, soft surfaces for kneading that remind them of mom’s fur. Fleece blankets likely have the right warmth and texture your cat associates with contentment and kittenhood kneading. Indulge this preference for your cat’s comfort.
My cat purrs loudly. Is this normal?
Loud, robust purring is perfectly healthy for most cats. As long as your cat is breathing comfortably and shows no signs of distress, a “motorboat” purr simply reflects contentment. Quieter purrs still offer cats similar benefits.
Kneading and purring are common cat behaviors stemming from kittenhood that remain instinctive into adulthood. When cats knead and purr together it generally conveys happiness, security, and bonding. While usually positive, excessive kneading or purring may indicate underlying issues needing veterinary attention. With understanding of cat body language, you can discern the meaning behind your unique cat’s kneading and purring patterns.