It's not much of a stretch to say that kneading is an expression of kitty love.
Most people who have cats or spend time with cats are familiar with this rhythmical, almost mesmerizing feline behavior: One front paw at a time gently stretched as the claws are extended, and then drawn in as the claws are retracted, as if treading water in slow motion.
When do Cats Knead?
Kittens start kneading shortly after being born, to find their mothers' nipples and help stimulate the flow of milk.
Later in life cats use that same response when they are feeling cozy, comfortable and blissfully happy with you. Cats who have close relationships with their humans often knead when they are relaxed and being petted in their favorite style.
Cats may also use a favorite blanket, fluffy cat bed, or other soft object as a surrogate mom—roughly speaking—that they knead when feeling very content and secure.
Cats usually accompany their kneading with a steady purr, and may even drool. Such uninhibited simple pleasure is impressive and touching, and often contagious.
When drinking their mother’s milk, young kittens' kneading and purrs let Mama know that everything is all right. When our cats knead and purr in response to our affectionate care, they convey a similar message.
Love Hurts Sometimes
Kitty may not realize that as she's displaying blissful contentment from your company, she's also giving you painful scrapes with her sharp claws. A simple solution is to place a or old towel on top of where kitty's kneading you, so you can savor the moment but save your skin. You can also or outfit her with , which will dull the impact when kitty lovingly digs into you. A third option is to gently reposition one or both of you so that kitty is still in contact with you but is kneading the bed, chair, or other inanimate object. If at all possible, you don't want to rebuff kitty when she's showing such unabashed affection; that would confuse and disappoint her. Remember that to be kneaded by a cat is to be paid one of the highest compliments in the feline world.