It’s one of the nicest feelings in the world when your cat, settling in for a nap, alternately presses their front paws into your lap.
This is called kneading, and there’s a heart-melting reason why it’s such a special part of your relationship with your cat.
The kneading action actually starts right from when kittens are born – one of its functions is to stimulate milk production in the mothers’ mammary glands.
Other behaviours that accompany the action indicate that it’s a juvenile behaviour carried over into adulthood, so it doesn’t mean the cat is trying to make you produce milk.
Humans have many terms for it, including pussyfooting, “making biscuits” and “milk treading,” a term coined by zoologist Desmond Morris.
It’s usually accompanied by purring and followed by a nap – both behaviours that are also observed in kittens during and after feeding.
It wouldn’t be the first feline behaviour that seems to have been altered by human companionship.
According to the ASPCA, adult cats don’t meow at each other, just at humans, much like kittens meow to adult cats – so it’s possible that your cat thinks of you as a weird, overgrown parent, albeit one that really sucks at hunting.
There also may be other instincts at play when your cat is softening you up for a nap.
According to the veterinarian-run website PetMD, adult cats in the wild use their paws and claws to tread down and soften a small area for sleeping.
“The wild ancestors of domestic cats liked to lay down on soft, comfortable surfaces to either sleep or give birth to their young,” the website notes.
“By kneading down tall grass or leaves, cats were able to fashion a comfy spot to lay down in, and also possibly to check the ground for unwelcome visitors lurking under the foliage.”
And, since cats have scent glands in their paw pads, they’re probably also indulging in a bit of territorialism, marking you or their bed as their property.
It is important to note that, despite popular belief, kneading is not the sign of a cat who was weaned too early – most cats seem to do it.
But even if they’re trying to squish you down to make a bed or trying to mark you as their property, a cat kneading you means you are very loved, in that special kitty way.
“If you do have a cat who kneads their bedding, or better yet you, it’s because they’re feeling very loved and comfortable,” Katie Armour of the MSPCA told The Dodo. “You should absolutely take this as a compliment!”
You might want to keep her claws trimmed, though. Yowch.