Many cat owners will have a cat that loves to knead with its paws whilst sitting on someone’s lap. The reason behind this behaviour in adult cats is not fully understood, but it can be very funny or even cute (if your cat doesn’t extend their claws).
Sometimes when your cat kneads your leg you will feel rhythmic pricks of sharp little claws, and this can be very painful. Even though you know they love you, you do always wonder why they are so intent on kneading you with what feels like tiny knives.
A close up of a British Shorthair cat's great big paws
Below are the four main theories as why adult cats like to knead us with their paws.
1. They associate it with the comfort of being a kitten.
Kittens will knead their mother’s teats when they are suckling in order to help squeeze more milk out. As a kitten matures they may still associate the kneading with a sense of comfort even if there is no food reward.
2. They like to stretch their claws.
Most of us can appreciate a good stretch and perhaps cats are the same. They have lots of small bones, ligaments and tendons in their paws that will be stretched through kneading. Therefore maybe they are just enjoying a nice stretch.
3. They are returning your affection.
Perhaps your cat is enjoying your affection so much that they wish to return the favour.
4. They are still wild at heart.
Wild cats will build nests to give birth to their young. They do this by flattening down plants and debris in the surrounding area. Perhaps this natural instinct is still present in domestic cats and presents itself through kneading.