Cats have a habit of kneading with their paws the surface on which they settle, whether it is on a blanket or on our knees. An intriguing behaviour that science can explain. Juvenile reflex, ancestral habit or territorial marking are all theories that allow us to look into the origins of the kneading that our domestic cats like to do.
Ah, cats, we could spend hours on the Internet admiring the videos of their silliness... But how can we blame them, when they are so cute! They meow, they purr, and above all... they knead. All cat owners have once observed the following situation: while lying comfortably on a blanket or on their knees, their animal begins to tread the surface on which it is installed with its front legs.
In theory, it is difficult to interpret such behaviour, but thanks to science, nothing is impossible! To explain this kneading, the specialists have come up with several theories.
A reflex acquired in the first days of their life
The kneading of domestic felines can be traced back to the first days of their lives. The kittens actually knead the belly of their mother to stimulate the production of milk by the mammary glands. A reflex that does not disappear in adulthood: once grown up, cats would retain some of their ‘childhood soul’.
An explanation that is all the more plausible, given the fact that for both the young kittens, as well as for their elders, the kneading process is usually accompanied by purring and often precedes a well-deserved nap. This rest period is needed by the kittens in order to digest, but also lasts when breast milk is no longer part of their menu.
According to experts from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, our cats somehow assimilate us to their parents. Witness the meows they send us. In nature, only kittens communicate with their parents by meowing. Between adults, conversations are extremely rare.
Scientists are also advancing another hypothesis to explain cats' kneading behaviour. According to the PetMD website, this habit could also stem from ancestral practices implemented by distant ancestors of our current felines. ‘The wild ancestors of domestic cats liked to lie on soft and comfortable surfaces, to sleep or give birth to their young,’ says the site.
Wildcats trod the soil with their paws to loosen it and form a cozy bed in tall grass or among dead leaves. It's also a way to make sure that unwanted pests or insects do not interfere with their rest or when they give birth.
A way to mark their territory and to show their affection
Cats also like to mark their territory: they rub themselves to deposit pheromones or urinate to delineate their space in an olfactory way. Kneading would also appear to be part of the cat's territorial tagging arsenal. It has indeed under its paw beans ‘odoriferous’ glands, able to emit scented substances intended to inform its fellow felines.
Others point out that the feeling cats experience on their paws during kneading is most likely pleasant for them, prompting them to repeat the behaviour. Whatever the explanation, specialists are unanimous when it comes to asserting that kneading is a sign of confidence and well-being. ‘If you have a cat that kneads their blanket, or even better, you, it's because they feel very loved and comfortable,’ says Katie Armor from the Massachusetts Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals on the website The Dodo.
‘You should absolutely take it as a compliment!’ recommends the specialist. Our cats are literally ‘full of good intentions’!