We all know and love for our cats to knead us. They stretch out their front paws and rhythmically open and close the toes while pushing alternate paws. Cat lovers instinctively are pleased when our cats do this. There is something soothing that just tells us all is well. The cats are usually purring and seem to be so peaceful and happy. It is infectious.
The behavior seems to be a throwback from their kittenhood and when they used their front paws to stimulate their mother’s milk to let down for nursing. When babies nurse, it is a positive experience for them and their mom. Happy hormones flood them both and the kitten learns that these good feelings are associated with peace, safety and food!
When our cats knead on or near us, it probably indicates that they are feeling safe and content, just like they were when they nursed with their mom and siblings.
It is also interesting to note that cats can produce a chemical for marking between their toes (interdigital semiochemical) that they can release when they flex their toes, so your cat could also be labeling you as a safe part of their territory. 1
Overall, kneading is an amazingly positive thing for cats and cat owners. For your cat to feel as close to you as she did to her mother before she was weaned is simply wonderful. Enjoy these bonding moments between you and your cat, who feels so safe and content with you that she wants to stamp you with her seal of approval.
Sit back and relax, listen to her purr and know that you have truly made “cat parent” status in her eyes.
- Induction of scratching behaviour in cats: efficacy of synthetic feline interdigitalsemiochemical. J Feline Med Surg.2013 Oct;15(10):872-8. doi: 10.1177/1098612X13479114. Epub 2013 Feb 21. Cozzi A, Lecuelle CL, Monneret P, Articlaux F, Bougrat L, Mengoli M, Pageat P.