Why Is My Cat Attacking Me With Kneading Paws?

What is kneading?

Kneading is when a cat rhythmically presses its front paws into a soft surface or object, alternating between pushing in and out with their paws. It is an instinctive behavior that originates from kittens kneading their mother’s belly to stimulate milk production while nursing. The motion involves flexing their paws in succession and usually occurs when the cat is feeling happy and content. Kittens will knead their mother and littermates, and adult cats continue to exhibit this comforting behavior into adulthood.

Kneading serves several purposes for cats. The motion releases endorphins which produces feelings of pleasure and relaxation. It can be a self-soothing behavior when a cat is stressed. Kneading also allows cats to mark objects with their scent from specialized glands in their paw pads, helping them feel connected. When directed at their owners, kneading can signal affection, contentment and bonding. It demonstrates that a cat feels safe, secure, and comfortable with the person or object they are kneading on.

While most cats will knead blankets, cat beds or their owner’s lap, excessive, aggressive kneading may indicate anxiety, frustration or confusion. It’s important to look at the context and body language to understand the motivation behind intense kneading.

Why do cats knead?

Cats knead for a variety of reasons. Kneading releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine in a cat’s brain, providing self-soothing and comfort. The motion is reminiscent of kneading their mother’s teat while nursing as kittens, which can spark happy memories. Kneading often signals contentment, affection, and a bonding impulse. It can also mark territory, spreading the cat’s scent from glands in their paws (source). Some cats knead when hungry or anxious too, using it as a coping mechanism. Overall, kneading is an instinctive feline behavior, typically indicating a relaxed, content cat.

When do cats knead?

Cats often knead when they are settling down to take a nap or sleep. Kneading helps cats feel comfortable and safe, so they will commonly knead on soft blankets or their owner’s lap right before drifting off to sleep. The rhythmic motion of kneading seems to have a calming effect that helps pave the way for purring and napping.

Kneading is also a social bonding behavior that cats use to show contentment with their owners. A cat purring and kneading in its owner’s lap is a sign that the cat feels safe, secure, and bonded with that person. Cats tend to knead most often on their favorite person as a way to mark them with scent glands in their paws and show affection. So frequent kneading can be a good indicator that the cat feels a close attachment.

Overall, kneading is most common when a cat is feeling relaxed, comfortable, and bonded with an owner or environment. The context where kneading occurs provides clues into a cat’s mood and relationships.

Different Types of Kneading

Cats display different types and intensities of kneading behavior. Some common variations include:

Light Kneading

Light kneading involves the cat rhythmically pressing its paws up and down without claws extended. This is often seen when a cat is content, such as when sitting in its owner’s lap. Light kneading does not cause any harm and can signify a close bond between cat and owner (Purina).

Aggressive/Excessive Kneading

Aggressive or excessive kneading involves deep muscle movements and extended claws. The cat may knead very intensely and rapidly. This can be painful for the recipient. Excessive kneading may indicate stress, anxiety, or displaced nursing instincts in the cat (AAHA).

Kneading with Claws Extended

Some cats will knead with their front claws extended. This can damage furniture and be uncomfortable for owners. It is an instinctive behavior but clipping the cat’s claws can help curb damage (PetMD).

Why might kneading be aggressive?

There are several reasons why a cat may knead aggressively, including:

Overstimulation

Kneading releases endorphins which can have a calming effect on cats. However, if a cat becomes overstimulated, such as through petting, the kneading response may become more intense and aggressive as they try to calm themselves down [1].

Excitement

Some cats may knead more aggressively when they are feeling excited or aroused, such as before feeding time or when engaging in play. The kneading helps release their excited energy [2].

Marking territory

Cats have scent glands in their paw pads that release pheromones when kneaded. Aggressive kneading spreads more of the cat’s scent, which may be their way of marking territory and claiming ownership over areas or objects [3].

Mimicking nursing

Kittens knead their mother’s belly to stimulate milk production while nursing. Adult cats may knead aggressively on their owners as a way of mimicking this nurturing behavior from kittenhood [4].

Distress

Aggressive kneading may be a self-soothing response in anxious, stressed or frustrated cats. The repetitive motion releases calming endorphins to alleviate their distress [5].

How to curb aggressive kneading

There are several techniques you can try to reduce aggressive kneading behavior in cats:

  • Trim claws regularly – Keeping your cat’s claws neatly trimmed will minimize any damage or pain caused by kneading. It’s best to trim just the sharp tip of each claw.
  • Provide appropriate outlets for energy – Make sure your cat has enough stimulating playtime and activities to burn off excess energy. This may reduce restless or anxious kneading.
  • Discourage overpetting – Limit where and when you pet your cat to avoid overstimulation. Gently move their paws off you when kneading gets rough.
  • Offer alternative surfaces to knead – Provide soft blankets, pillows, or cat beds for acceptable kneading outlets.

With patience and consistency, you can teach your cat more appropriate kneading habits over time. It’s also important to rule out any medical issues like pain or anxiety that could be causing aggressive kneading. Consult your veterinarian if the behavior persists despite these training techniques.

When to see a vet

If your cat’s aggressive kneading becomes excessive or continues for long periods of time, it’s a good idea to rule out any potential medical causes. Some conditions that could lead to obsessive kneading include:

  • Arthritis or joint pain – Cats may knead excessively due to discomfort in their legs or paws. Kneading releases endorphins which can temporarily relieve pain. See your vet if you suspect arthritis.
  • Anxiety – Anxious cats often exhibit repetitive behaviors like aggressive kneading to soothe themselves. Medication or environmental changes may help for anxiety-induced kneading.
  • Cognitive dysfunction – Similar to dementia in elderly humans, cognitive decline in aging cats can cause behavioral changes like obsessive kneading. There are medications and supplements that may slow cognitive dysfunction.

Schedule an exam with your veterinarian if your cat’s kneading seems obsessive or excessive. Your vet can check for arthritis, anxiety, cognitive issues or other medical problems. With an accurate diagnosis, you can get treatment to reduce aggressive kneading and help your cat feel better.

Providing Appropriate Scratching Posts

Cats have an instinctual need to scratch, so providing appropriate scratching posts is essential. Vertical and horizontal scratchers cater to different scratching preferences. Vertical posts allow cats to stretch their back and work the scratching motion with their front paws. Horizontal scratchers allow cats to scratch in a downward motion using their back legs.

The most popular materials for scratchers are sisal rope, cardboard, and carpeting. Sisal rope withstands years of scratching and is durable. Cardboard scratchers are lightweight and inexpensive but don’t last as long. Carpeted posts are soft but may not appeal to cats who prefer a coarser texture.

Place scratching posts in multiple rooms around the house, especially areas your cat frequents like near sofas or beds. Having posts in high-traffic areas provides your cat with appropriate surfaces to scratch whenever the urge strikes. Putting catnip or treats on posts can also attract your cat to use them.

According to Wirecutter’s review of the best cat scratchers, the SmartCat Ultimate Scratching Post is a top choice for its stability, neutral colors, and sisal rope surfaces. It comes in both a horizontal and vertical model to accommodate different preferences.

Alternative methods

There are several humane alternatives to declawing that can help curb your cat’s scratching behavior.

One popular option is Soft Paws nail caps. These are plastic caps that fit over your cat’s claws so they can’t scratch furniture or people. The caps fall off as your cat’s nails grow and need to be replaced every 4-6 weeks.

Sticky Paws is another alternative that involves placing double-sided tape on furniture or areas you don’t want your cat to scratch. Cats dislike the sticky feeling on their paws and will avoid those areas.

Remote deterrents like Ssscat spray devices can also be used to keep cats away from undesirable scratching spots. These devices detect motion and emit a quick burst of air to startle the cat.

With consistency and positive reinforcement, these alternatives can reshape your cat’s scratching behavior and avoid the need for declawing.

Kneading and bonding

Kneading is often a sign of affection and bonding between a cat and its owner. When a cat kneads on its owner, it is showing trust and contentment. Kittens knead on their mothers to stimulate milk production, so kneading on an owner shows the cat sees you as a provider of comfort and nurturing. According to the Science Alert, kneading releases oxytocin in cats, also known as the “love hormone,” further demonstrating that this is an act of bonding between pet and owner.[1]

Owners should consider allowing light kneading during dedicated bonding time with their cats, as it strengthens your connection. However, extended or aggressive kneading may need to be discouraged to prevent damage from claws. Providing alternative kneading surfaces like blankets or cat beds can allow cats to exhibit this natural bonding behavior while protecting owners.

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