My Cats Purr and Knead Me: Why Do They Do That?
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.
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.
In simple terms, they are showing you that they love you. They are returning affection.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do you like it when your cat kneads you?
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!