I have seen this behavior in kittens before who are nursing with the mother. They push and pull on the mother's fur with their paws to get the milk. My cat, however, is a adult and has no mother. She does this while purring loudly and it seems to make her happy. Is this is memory that she is re-enacting? Is it a self-soothing behavior? I know little about her before I found her and her siblings abandoned, seven years ago. She was very hungry back then.

  • 1
    Some cats will knead in mid-air if they're feeling particularly pleased. I suspect it as automatic for them as a smile is for us. Suckling is less common but not uncommon.
    – keshlam
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 20:00
  • I have heard that cats that were improperly weaned are apt to display this behavior. That seems consistent for your particular cat... It was so long ago, I don't remember where I heard that, and I didn't look into whether that may be the case.... YMMV Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 20:03
  • ...that seems reasonable as the whole litter had been abandoned.
    – ychirea1
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 21:07

2 Answers 2


From http://m.livescience.com/40548-why-do-cats-knead.html

"In adulthood, a cat supposedly will knead when it's feeling happy or content because it associates the motion with the comforts of nursing and its mother. Adding further weight to the explanation: Some cats even suckle on the surface they're kneading."

When it comes down to it though, no one knows for sure why exactly some adult cats knead.

  • My cats usually want to knead my stomach for a while each night before curling up next to me ; I've always presumed it was memories of mama-cat. The more surprising thing is that they knead in different places, consistently, perhaps because they were in the habit of going for particular teats. It's actually a bit annoying since the big one leans hard, but it seems to please them, so... If I'm not there they'll kneed the blanket, which might even be useful in creating a soft spot.
    – keshlam
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 19:57

Humans' domestication of cats has caused them to retain many childhood actions and habits into adulthood and kneading (as in kneading bread) is thought to be one of them.

As you know, kittens knead at the mother's teats to cause lactation (the flow of milk). Can you imagine something better than being up close to Mom, all warm and cosy, getting delicious milk?

When an adult kneads, he or she is demonstrating an activity which was pleasurable for them in kittenhood and still gives them pleasure.

We have had kneaders that are so into it that I've often wondered if there is a way to get them help me knead the dough when I make bread.

  • I have observed my cat carefully and I wonder if she can recall the mother, though I doubt it. She is recreating the sensory experience with a kind of body-memory. It is very bittersweet, knowing that her mother is long gone, as is kittenhood, and she will never experience the thing that she is enacting. But I am happy that she is "happy."
    – ychirea1
    Commented Oct 10, 2015 at 4:05

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.