We spoke to our Cat Welfare Coordinator, Georgina Costi, to find out what padding is and why cats do it.
Padding, kneading or our personal favourite “making biscuits” is when a cat steps on something soft then alternately pushes it’s paws on the soft surface. They can do this both with or without their claws. You might notice them doing it on a blanket, other cats or dogs, or even your lap.
The simplest reason is that this is a behaviour brought into adulthood from a cat’s early years. When kittens are nursing from their mothers, they knead the breast (also called ‘milk treading’) to encourage milk expression and to make it flow faster.
They continue to perform this behaviour once they are fully grown adults because nursing was a time of comfort and pleasure for them, so this movement is very soothing. You might notice your cat dribbling or suckling whilst they pad too. This is also linked to nursing habits and the expectation of receiving milk. And it’s not just domestic cats that make biscuits – big cats such as lions do it too!
The reason why they tend to pad on soft items is because the softness and fluffiness reminds the cat of their mother’s belly. If your cat pads on you, it suggests that they feel comfortable with you and are happy to use you to knead their way to relaxation.
There are a few other potential reasons for padding, however these are more speculative.Cats have scent glands on the underside of their paws, and they use scent as a way of creating familiarity, marking territory, self soothing or bonding with another creature. So you could argue that anything they choose to knead is something they see as their territory or as a bonding technique. They are declaring ‘this is mine’. However this doesn’t explain their preference for kneading on soft surfaces.
Another hypothesis is that cat’s knead as a way of compacting a sleeping area. Usually a domestic cat will have a soft, fluffy bed or a comfortable sofa to sleep on. But before the domestication of cats, they often would have to sleep in a mound of grass or weeds. This behaviour compacts the plants and creates a more comfortable sleeping place. So it could be another genetic behaviour passed down through generations.
Whatever the reason for padding, there’s one thing we can all agree on – it’s very cute!
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