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We've got a solo cat who we rescued a year ago. He was a street cat (adopted at 5yrs) and took some time adapting to domestic life. He's always been in favor of snuggles but about a week ago, he started kneading on the bed/pillows, waking us both up. He's occasionally done this before, desiring attention, but this time around it's near-constant and whenever we try to pet him, he chirps and recoils.

According to my research, this can happen when a cat is removed from their mother too early, and he's decided I'm his surrogate mother (a problem, as I don't lactate). He's on a diet, we've tried to compensate by feeding him right before we go to bed, with little success. Last night we escalated to the nuclear option - kicking him out of the bedroom completely. Is there some solution where we don't have to kick him out but the kneading stops?

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You might try redirecting the kneading behavior. Whenever he starts kneading (at any time of day), put him on a specific blanket/shirt that you've dedicated for this purpose (we've noticed our cats like fluffy/soft blankets, so I'd suggest starting with something like that). If he starts kneading again, give him a treat (or piece of dry kibble).

Make sure when you go to bed that the designated kneading blanket is nearby. If your cat likes heights, put it on a tower/tree and not on the floor (it'll get ignored on the floor). When he starts kneading at night, move him to the blanket.

Eventually, he'll associate the blanket as the place to knead. As long as it's nearby at night, he should go to it, not your bed.

Redirection for this behavior is better than punishment. Startling or disciplining your cat for a natural behavior will damage the trust you've built up.

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I would also suggest not to discourage it as kneading is not about separation issues but rather about showing content through a natural habit. All of my cats knead. The bed, pillows, Their own beds, my chest, my lap. If you are not fond of them doing it on certain items, as Zaralynda suggested, find an outlet for them to do it on. My female and male cat both like to knead on a soft cat bed while purring very loudly.

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