By Langley Cornwell
Okay, I’ll come right out and admit it – my cat sleeps right on top of me. When I fall asleep on my back, he falls asleep on my stomach. If I roll over, he rolls with me and sleeps against my back or my front, depending on which way he flops when I roll.
My husband (relegated to the far other side of the bed) laughingly asks how it feels to have the equivalent of a watermelon balancing on me while I sleep. It’s true; our cat is a big guy. It took me a while to get used to our sleeping arrangements but he is so cuddly and loving that I persevered.
There’s one thing he does during our highly choreographed slumber, however, that I cannot get used to. There are times when he’ll wake up and start kneading on my back, and then he starts purring loud enough to wake the neighbors. This kneading or ‘making biscuits’ is a deal breaker. Once he begins, there is no way I can fall back to sleep. After a while, the kneading and purring starts to feel like water torture, especially if you’re starving for sleep.
Kneading is a common feline trait. Much like grooming after a meal or curling up in a tight ball for a nap, kneading is just one of those things that cats do. And while the act of kneading is the same—pushing their paws in and out while switching from the left to the right paw—cats knead in different ways. Some cats keep their claws retracted the whole time while other cats extend their claws on the push motion and retract them on the pull-back motion. Thankfully, my cat keeps his claws retracted the entire time so there’s no pain involved but still…could you sleep during a kneading and purring session?
According to the catster website, cats like to knead on soft, supple surfaces and the motion is usually accompanied by purring and/or cooing. My neighbor’s cat seems to hypnotize himself when he kneads. His eyes fall to half-mast and take on a glazed look. I’ve even seen him start to drool when he gets the perfect rhythm going. The complete state of relaxation he reaches makes me want to master the art of kneading.
I was hoping catster could explain why cats knead, but apparently there are a variety of theories. It’s certainly an instinctive behavior. Most cat lovers have seen baby kittens knead their mother’s stomach while they nurse. I assumed that motion allowed newborn kittens to ‘pump’ more milk into their mouths.
We rescued our cat at a very tender age; he didn’t have the opportunity to nurse long enough. He wasn’t properly weaned and used to try and suckle our dog, or anything else he could latch on to. A friend told me our cat kneaded a lot because he was separated from his mother when he was too young and, therefore, didn’t properly mature. The immature part could be true, our cat is a complete clown, but research indicates that’s an outdated notion. It seems that kneading has nothing to do with weaning age. It’s simply an instinctive characteristic that is comforting to cats.
Additionally, when a cat is kneading you (or an inanimate object) he’s marking. The soft pads on a cat’s paw have scent glands and when he kneads, he’s releasing his scent onto the surface of whatever it is that he’s kneading. This scent marks his possessions and his territory. Learning all of this makes me glad of two things: 1) that our cat loves me enough to claim me as his own and 2) that he’s not marking me another way.
Even though my cat’s kneading is distracting (sometimes aggravating) when I’m trying to sleep, I would never punish him for an instinctive behavior. I have tried to gently hold his front paws still until he falls back to sleep. I’ve also tried to maneuver out of his reach until he stops the motion. Sometimes one or a combination of those two activities will quell the biscuit making.
Do your cats knead on you?
Photo by Janet Morrell
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell
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