Do you ever see your cat shifting his front paws back and forth just beforesettling down for a nap? Have you heard some cat lovers talk about theirfeline friends “making biscuits” or “kneading dough”?

Scientists who study cat behavior call this distinctive paw action “kneading”and believe it to be a sign of a relaxed cat. My own cats knead before takinga nap near me. While they are kneading, they purr — one of them gets sorelaxed, he sometimes drools. Kneading usually occurs near a favorite person.

As a veterinarian, I think it’s important to recognize the little moments yourcat is telling you she’s happy to be near you.

If you’re ever around newborn kittens, you will see kneading pretty quicklyafter birth. A kitten kneads on his mother’s abdomen as a way of telling herhe is hungry and ready for her milk

At the same time, the kitten usually purrs, which is a sound created by rapidvibrations of certain throat muscles. Purring is a signal for attention.

Using these two behaviors, kittens are asking their moms, also known asqueens, to remain still so they can continue suckling. Young kittens usuallyfall asleep while suckling.

Kittens stop drinking their mother’s milk by about two months of age. So whydo cats continue to knead as adults?

Kneading seems to be more common in some cats than others. If your cat doesn’tknead, it could mean he is a little stressed — or it could just be that yourcat doesn’t display relaxation or affection in that manner.

But many cats do continue kneading into adulthood. It’s pretty safe to assumea cat who is kneading is feeling calm, content and ready to settle down, justlike a kitten settling in to suckle and sleep.

You may already know that when your cat bunts, or butts his head and rubs hischeek, head and body against your leg or an object near you, he is putting hisscent in these locations. Cats also have scent glands between their toes,prompting some people to suggest that cats are also putting a familiar,comforting scent on their sleeping area when they knead.

Don’t bother to look for these glands on your own cat. They are not easilyvisible.

Kneading may also be a form of communication between cats and their people.

If you’ve been around dogs, you know most are quite obvious in letting humansknow they want something or like someone. For thousands of years, people havepurposely bred dogs to be fun companions, as well as to have useful behaviorssuch as herding, tracking or guarding.

Cats and people have also lived together for thousands of years — and humanshave appreciated their amazing natural mousing skills. Only recently havepeople tried to breed cats, but mostly for their appearance, not for specificbehaviors.

The result is that cats are a little more subtle than dogs in their ways oftelling a person, “I like you.” Kneading is one of those clues.

Source: Dr. Julia Albright, associate professor of veterinary medicine,University of Tennessee

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