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My Cats Purr and Knead Me: Why Do They Do That?

Updated on January 10, 2015
NateB11 profile image

Like most people I'm curious, and interested in strange factoids. Therefore, I sometimes do research on unusual topics to find answers.

I've been a cat lover since I was a kid. When I was a youngster, we had a lot of cats. I was always entertained by them and also admired the fact that they were all, in some way, sassy. They truly are independent creatures, hardly seem domesticated. In fact, that's what distinguishes them from dogs: Dogs are bred to work for people. Cats are bred to look cool. So, they have remained cool through the ages.

As I mentioned, they are natural-born entertainers. They like to suddenly decide to go to another room, for no reason, and then run to that other room at top speed. Then, all of a sudden they come back, and stop in a very interesting pose with their butt in the air and eyes bugging out.

Who wouldn't love that?

And then, about 15 minutes later, they're on your lap, purring and kneading your lap with their eyes rolling into the back of their heads like they're having a bad trip; at the same time they are digging their razor sharp claws into your tender flesh while they are "making biscuits".

Who wouldn't love that?

Well, clearly it's a sign of affection, and it might be smart to keep an extra pillow handy to act as a barrier as soon as you see your cat getting that look in their eyes.

But why do they do all that? Why do cats purr? Why do cats knead?

Let's take it one step at a time.

We love our kitties, don't we?
We love our kitties, don't we? | Source

Why Do Cats Knead?

If you have a cat, or cats, you've probably seen it. Usually with their front paws, alternating, pushing in and out on a soft object like your lap or the couch cushions, in a rhythmic fashion. It's a fascinating and strange behavior, but seems to denote pleasure.

There are various theories as to why cats do this. Here are some of them.

Comes From When They Were a Kitten Nursing

If you've ever observed a kitten with its mother, you've probably seen it kneading while its nursing. It is said, and it makes sense to me, that adult cats still associate this action with comfort, being nurtured and rewarded. So, they still do it as a form of comfort and pleasure. A bit like nuzzling your lover.

It's Affectionate

In simple terms, they are showing you that they love you. They are returning affection.

They're Stretching

If you've felt like the muscles in your hands were too tight and clenched your fists and then open your hands and extended your fingers to stretch your hand, then you know that it feels pretty good to do a little simple stretch like that. Seems possible this is what cats are doing, after one of their every-couple-hours-long-naps.

Tradition

Cats' ancestors in the wild used to pat down a soft spot in the woods to make sure it was comfy and safe for sleeping or as a nest for babies. Seems maybe our cats are still doing this to create a nest like they used to back in the day.

Marking Territory

When cats do the kneading action, they release their scent from glands inside the pads of their paws. It's possible they are marking territory when they knead on stuff and you.

Mating

Female cats actually knead when they go into heat as a display to male cats that they are ready to mate.

So, it seems that there are varied reasons why cats knead. It really depends on the circumstance. Kind of like the way we hug. Depends on who we hug and for what reason, I suppose.

It is also said by researchers that cats think of us as cats. They don't have the same point of reference as dogs. Dogs are trained mostly to work for humans. Cats, as I said earlier, have been bred for their looks. So, cats are still interacting with us according to their natural instincts and how they interact with other cats.


Cats are a great comfort to many people, even known to lower blood pressure.
Cats are a great comfort to many people, even known to lower blood pressure. | Source

Do you like it when your cat kneads you?

See results

Why Do Cats Purr?

This one is a little more complex. Well, the whole operation of a purr is a bit complex itself. It starts in the brain which sends a message to the laryneal muscles to twitch at a rate of 25 to 150 vibrations a second and the vocal cords separate as the cat inhales and exhales;an operation that occurs between the larynx and the diaphragm.

What makes this action even more complex, behaviorally, is that cats do it when they are happy and when they're scared. They do it when they want you to feed them, when they are happy to see you and when you take them to the vet. They even do it when they are injured.

This has gotten scientists curious, so they've actually studied and theorized about why exactly cats purr and what purring does.

Let's run through some of the theories.

They Do it to Appease You

They do it when they like you and, I guess alternately, when they want to say, "Hey, don't hurt me." This could explain why they do it when they are nervous when you take them to the vet.

They Want Something

It is said cats, possibly instinctively, can control the frequency of their purrs. When they want some food, they direct the purr at you at a frequency of a baby crying. You both get annoyed and respond in a nurturing way. In my experience, this stuff works.

It is a Form of Self-Medication

This is possibly one of the most interesting theories. It is said that vibrations of 24-140 Hertz are sufficient for bone growth and healing, a rate within the range of a cat's purr. This would explain why cats purr when injured, and maybe why they purr when in danger or feel they are in danger. It might be why cats can fall from the second story of a building and have a 90% survival rate. Cats have 9 lives, after all. Cats do heal faster than dogs, this is a scientific fact. This action of purring actually conserves energy too, it is a low-level frequency that, nonetheless, has an impact on building bone density.

In fact, people with cats are 40% less likely to have heart attacks than people without cats and it has been shown that having a cat lowers blood pressure and relieves stress. Maybe all that purring has an effect on us too.

My Take on Why Cats Purr

I think purring is not much different than our heavy breathing and sped up heart rate when we are in love or when we are in danger. We have our own Fight or Flight response that prepares our bodies for action: Either for love or dealing with a physical attack. Cats seem to have a purr mechanism for the same reason that can be used in different circumstances.

A Simple Explanation for Why Cats Purr

So, it seems that much of cat behavior is not cut and dried. There are varied reasons for what they do, just like we humans. Sometimes their purrs are for affection or need, sometimes for self-medication. They knead because it's left-over kitten behavior or they want to establish home territory. Cats are a bit complex, I suppose.

I do know they're fun. They are a constant source of comfort and stress relief, in addition to being great companions and entertainers.

All hail the Kings and Queens of the living room!

Happy cat!
Happy cat! | Source

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    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 12 months ago

      "Cats, as I said earlier, have been bred for their looks ... " You seddit mate! Cats certainly is the goodlookingest animals in the world! The ancient Egyptians had great taste indeed!

    • Lydia Holden profile image

      Lydia 2 years ago from London

      Cats are adorable animals

    • NateB11 profile image
      Author

      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      Thanks, Sharilee. I love cats, used to have a bunch of them when I was a kid, they're a lot of fun. I too find this topic very interesting, to learn why cats do what they do.

      Very glad you stopped by.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 3 years ago from Canada

      @NateB11, I love it! I love learning and writing about cats, but you taught me some things. I thought that cats kneaded because they did it when they were kittens, and wasn't familiar with the other theories. Very interesting. And also, I had not come across the idea that cats think we are fellow cats, although that certainly makes sense with my experience. Great article!

    • NateB11 profile image
      Author

      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      I think you're right about that, David. They might be getting us ready for dinner.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Actually, I have another theory about why cats knead us. Watch them...so intent...so serious...purring away.....they're tenderizing us.

    • NateB11 profile image
      Author

      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      Hi, Ann. Cats certainly are a lot of fun and great companions. Glad you stopped by.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      I'm a cat person, so I relate! I have 4 cats - 3 males and 1 female. They all knead and they all purr. They even talk to me on occasion, one sometimes rather loudly!

    • NateB11 profile image
      Author

      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      I think you're right about that, SandCastles. Kneading for cats seems similar to how we rock in a rocking chair. I also love dogs. I've had both dogs and cats and love both of their distinctive personalities and ways of doing things.

    • profile image

      SandCastles 3 years ago

      I love cats too! Sometimes cats will knead a soft stuffed toy too so I think it is relaxing for them. I think with people, it is about bonding with them because cats often knead any soft surface (like a pillow or stuffed toy or blanket). Cats are definitely cool but I like dogs too; I like dogs and cats.

    • NateB11 profile image
      Author

      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      Hi, Shelley. That's one of the things I found most difficult about having pets, that inevitably you have to lose them; we tend to outlive them.

      Kittens are always a lot of fun and, of course, cute.

      I'm glad you liked the Hub and glad you stopped by.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 3 years ago

      Hi, we love cats too. Earlier this year I had to put down my 16 year old cat. Now I have a kitten, the most lovable little thing with so much character. I enjoyed your hub, thank you for sharing.

    • NateB11 profile image
      Author

      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      Hahaha! They're a lot of fun to have around.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      We have three. As empty nesters, they have become our kids and, yes, we have become those crazy cat people.

    • NateB11 profile image
      Author

      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      Exact, Tom. We do love our cats.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 3 years ago from Moundsville, WV

      NateB11,

      You have nailed many of the reasons that cats are American's favorite pets. Add bunting and you may have them all.