Using these two behaviors, kittens are asking their moms, also known as queens, to remain still so they can continue suckling. Young kittens usually fall asleep while suckling.
Kittens stop drinking their mother’s milk by about two months of age. So why do cats continue to knead as adults?
Ready to relax
Kneading seems to be more common in some cats than others. If your cat doesn’t knead, it could mean he is a little stressed — or it could just be that your cat doesn’t display relaxation or affection in that manner.
But many cats do continue kneading into adulthood. It’s pretty safe to assume a cat who is kneading is feeling calm, content and ready to settle down, just like a kitten settling in to suckle and sleep.
You may already know that when your cat bunts, or butts his head and rubs his cheek, head and body against your leg or an object near you, he is putting his scent in these locations. Cats also have scent glands between their toes, prompting some people to suggest that cats are also putting a familiar, comforting scent on their sleeping area when they knead.
Don’t bother to look for these glands on your own cat. They are not easily visible.
Kneading may also be a form of communication between cats and their people.
Cats and people have also lived together for thousands of years — and humans have appreciated their amazing natural mousing skills. Only recently have people tried to breed cats, but mostly for their appearance, not for specific behaviors.
The result is that cats are a little more subtle than dogs in their ways of telling a person, “I like you.” Kneading is one of those clues.
Dr. Julia Albright is an associate professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Tennessee.