Why Do Cats Purr and Knead?

Purring Cat

Kittens often behave in different ways than grown cats, but there are some things kittens do that continue on throughout adulthood. These behaviors include purring and kneading.

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Purring is often associated with cats conveying their comfort or happiness in a nonverbal way. Behaviorists theorize that kittens start purring while nursing in order to communicate to their mother that everything is fine. Kittens are not able to meow while nursing, so purring is a nonverbal way for them to communicate with their mother. Often the mother cat will purr back, continuing the communication.

Cats continue to purr, as they grow older, to communicate different things. It can mean satisfaction or contentment, but it can also mean the cat is feeling nervous or scared. Cats will sometimes purr in a more stressful situation for this purpose, like when they visit a veterinarian office or when the cat is sick or injured. This is the cat’s way of calming and reassuring itself in an uncomfortable situation.

Sometimes cats will purr when approaching a fellow cat to convey friendliness and a willingness to come closer.

Cats are not the only felines or animals that purr. Other animals do too, such as wildcats, mongooses, guinea pigs, and even raccoons to signal many of the same emotions and feelings. Purring is a way for animals to communicate non-verbally.

Other types of nonverbal behaviors are squinting, slow blinking, stretching, scratching, facial rubbing, and spraying.

(click to see larger images)


Kneading is another behavior that kittens as well as adult cats do that can mean different things.

Kneading begins when young kittens are nursing. They knead their mother with their paws. This stimulates the milk flow. It is thought that cats continue to do this into adulthood because they see it as a rewarding and soothing motion.

Cats will often knead on a soft surface such as a blanket, pillow, or lap.

If a cat kneads while being petted, it can mean that the cat is showing affection or contentment. The happier the c is, the harder the cat will knead. Therefore, this can sometimes become painful for whoever the cat is sitting on. It may be a good idea to put some type of soft blanket or barrier between the cat and your lap.

Cats also knead to stretch their muscles, much like people do after or before exercise.

Cats will knead the ground, particularly grass, to make a nice, comfortable place to lay down or to check the ground for any unwanted visitors before deciding to make it a lounging spot.

Cat Kneading

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