Cats scratching and kneading is a way of communicating, but what are they telling us?

Cats scratching and kneading is hardwired into their behavior

Cats scratching and kneading is a way of communicating with other cats.

Cats scratching and kneading, like kneading bread, can be both annoying and destructive. Many times, it is us – a leg, tummy, or chest – our pillow, blankets, hair, a couch, recliner, favorite plant, or our new woodwork around our windows. If they are an inside-outside cat, they claw at trees, shrubs, and plants. They seem to have an insatiable desire and need to knead, but why?

Cats begin kneading as tiny kittens, before their eyes open. They put their paws around their mommy’s nipples and quickly learn that the pressure stimulates the flow of milk. It is believed that memory of maternal warmth and security stays with the cat forever. They often purr when kneading. Sometimes the paw moves just slightly. Other times a cat lifts their paws up and down as if parading in place.

When cats knead, they alternately push out and pull in their front paws, often alternating between right and left limbs. Some cats actually appear to “nurse” or suck on clothing or bedding during kneading.

For years, it was assumed they were sharpening their claws. But if that were so, then why would cats that are declawed exhibit the same behavior.

Some believe that kneading is a carry-over from their ancient feline ancestors in the wild, whose kneading was actually a practical way of tramping down grass or foliage to make a bed, and staking a claim on the area.

According to an online article written by Daniel Q. Estep, Ph.D. and Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., Certified Applied Animal behaviorist, Animal Behavior Associates, Inc., of Colorado, published at, claim the reason they knead and scratch is communication. It’s their way of letting other felines know where they are.

But does that explain why they seem to go back to the same piece of furniture, literally making it look like it was shredded to pieces, with little if any upholstery or bark left. And why do declawed (this post by no means endorses nor condemns the practice) cats need to let others know where they are?

In the online article, they go on to say that Cats tend to pick a “small number of conspicuous objects in their environments to scratch such as trees, fence posts, the corner of the couch, etc., and return to them repeatedly.” Repeatedly is a key. They find it difficult to leave that particular piece of furniture or windowsill alone

They explain that the “scratched surface leaves a highly visible mark that can be easily seen by other cats.”

Felines also have scent glands in their paws and when they make scratching movements, or kneading, they leave odor cues that other cats smell. This may be the reason that declawed cats continue to scratch – they are leaving scent marks on objects they scratch.

There’s no conclusive research showing exactly why cats knead. It has no boundaries. Both males and females knead. They do it inside and outside. According to animal, it could be a territorial warning, or a marker stating that kitty resides here and is alive and well.

Cats scratching and kneading is a way of communicating.

Take note, your kitty isn’t trying to be mean or spite you when they knead. It’s a hard-wired behavior they need to do.

Cats use scent from other parts of their bodies to communicate. They have scent glands at the corners of their mouths, in the thin hair between their eyes and ears. and at the base of their tails.

When they run their heads and tails up against people and things, they leave scents behind. Research doesn’t know exactly why, but claims they rub up against people and pets they are attached to.

A more distasteful way cats mark is by spraying urine on objects. They spray from a standing position, not the squatting position they use when eliminating. According to, spraying often occurs during territorial disputes. when the cat is highly aroused or frustrated, and is not related to litter box issues.

The online article goes on to point out why cats do scratch. They list the following reasons:

  • It removes the dead outer layer or sheath of the claws.
  • It marks territory by leaving both a visual mark and an odor or scent because they have scent glands on their claws
  • It is a way of stretching the entire body and flexing the feet and claws.
  • It is used during play.
  • Cats may be displaying dominance by scratching in front of other cats.

Cats should never be punished for kneading. They are showing their affection for you, or trying to communicate something. There are many ways to try to retain a cat to use a scratching post rather than your couch. Or put a blanket in your lap so the claws don’t go through your skin.

In the next post, Paws for Reflection will be talking about a lovely scratching post that was made for durability. And baby kitten Lenny and Paws other four partners will have a chance to let you know what they think. Another point to make, when placing scratching posts, put them near the object the cat is clawing, not hidden in a corner out-of-the-way. That just doesn’t work.

Have you found ways that helped your cat(s) stop clawing up the furniture, a favorite plant, or other inside or outside item? If so, please share your experiences.






BJ Bangs is an established journalist, photographer, and an aspiring author. She loves everything about cats, including writing about them.

3 Responses

  1. Amber says:

    Yes, there are plenty of theories! Some people think it’s for stress relief, while others lean more toward the points you brought up, as well as kneading to make the place they’re lying down on more comfortable.

    • BJ Bangs says:

      You are absolutely right. The research points to many reasons. Kneading is definitely communication, but it also could be a whole lot more. Thanks for commenting.

  1. February 15, 2014

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