Why do Cats Knead?
Cats have a tendency to knead vigorously before they settle into their chosen position and even after they are already comfortable. If a cat has ever sat on you, you will be familiar with that gentle and persistent pummelling which usually ensues. It is an endearing habit but one which has ruined many a designer jumper!
Over the years my various feline friends have certainly destroyed a large proportion of my garments. Most of my knitwear now boasts pulled threads and extra bobbles. Many of my t shirts have developed small holes which always seem to be located precisely where my cat tends to sit and even some of my jeans are damaged. The trouble is, I always feel guilty about trying to stop the kneading because it's so damn cute!
So why do cats engage in this strange behaviour?
The most likely explanation for the kneading is that it is a legacy of kittenhood. When kittens are feeding from their mother, they apply pressure around the nipples to stimulate the flow of milk. It is at this time that they learn to knead and they retain the tendency throughout their lives. Isn't astonishing how most feline behaviours are related to getting fed?
The fact that kneading starts as a means to access milk would also explain why some cats tend to suck whatever they happen to be kneading. They are not bothered that they are ruining your favourite jumper and so a session in front of the TV with your lap cat can result in soggy clothes as well as damaged ones.
It is possible that kneading is also a way to express contentment and trust. Cats purr when they knead which shows that they are relaxed. It will merely frighten and confuse them if you punish the behaviour. If the kneading is problematic, either because you are wearing a treasured garment or because those little claws are inflicting pain, lift the cat up gently and put them down somewhere else cosy and comfortable. It might help to invest in a soft blanket for them to knead.
Making a Bed
The kneading might also be a legacy of wild cats' habit of patting down a bed for themselves in grass and foliage. However, it is a cat's tendency to turn in circles before lying down which more closely mimics this behaviour. They could be trying to knead you into a more comfortable shape, of course! My cat certainly seems to object to the way that I am sitting sometimes. He has an annoying routine of fidgeting and turning which he employs to irritate me into adjusting my position.
Kneading is a natural behaviour which seems incredibly endearing until you realise that your entire wardrobe is being systematically destroyed! Most owners learn to live with kneading but few learn to love it. I have certainly got into the habit of changing into old and damaged clothes before I sit down so that my furry friend can do his worst.