Watch the cute, cat behavior kneading video below for a textbook example of this activity. When your cat jumps up onto the couch or your lap or any area that it plans to make themselves comfortable, this would be a common time to see this type of behavior.
Before settling down, it's likely they will begin to knead the area with a slow rhythmic pushing of the paws accompanied by the spreading open then closing of the front paws, fingers or toes. The complex kneading movement in some parts of the world is called paddling and purring.
In my house this hypnotic rhythm is called making bread, because it seems if the kitty cat is a baker in a semi trance kneading dough preparing it for the oven. This cat Behavior is often accompanied by soft purring. This is also a sign that your cat is about to settle down for a while in a comfortable location.
This procedure is actually a reminder of kitten hood. From the age of three weeks until weaning kittens spend a lot of their time kneading and purring around their mothers milk supplying nipples.
Kittens are fast learners when it comes to fun and food. They learn quickly that the movement of their paws on either side of the mom cats nipple stimulates or increases the milk flow coming their way.
A soft and warm or comfortable area, whether it be our laps or the favorite cushion on the couch seems to bring out this kittenish behavior in cats. Although the above is the most common reason that you will notice this cat behavior kneading there is yet another answer to this question.
For the adult females that have not been fixed when either coming into or approaching heat they might also exhibit this very same kneading cat behavior. It's like the extra hormones trigger this instinctual behavior and the cat zones out and goes on auto pilot.
Of course like many animal lovers we recommend Spaying or Neutering cats but if you want to test your adult female cat to see if she is currently having or approaching heat here's how to do it. Gently stroke or pat her along the back towards the tail a regular petting motion can also work. If she is in heat then you'll most likely see her elevate the rump area and get into the mating position.
Sometimes If you do the same test to your cat while they are kneading or paddling on a couch cushion or on your lap, you might elicit a similar response. A female approaching heat will be very friendly and rub around with her head and neck where many of the sent glands are located.
This paddling or kneading cat behavior towards us can be viewed as part juvenile or part sexual. But in either case it clearly means affection for their human owners and happiness with their surrounding environment. A feline that is unhappy or under stress will not perform this paw pushing activity.
So consider it a compliment to you for providing a healthy well balanced environment and a very happy home for your feline friends. Famous cat quote: "No amount of time can erase the memory of a good cat, and no amount of masking tape can ever totally remove his or her fur from your couch."
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