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Why do Cats Knead and Bite Blankets?

Why do Cats Knead and Bite Blankets?

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Cats knead and bite blankets due to a variety of factors. These factors are instinctual, behavioral, and emotional in nature. They can be traced back to a cat’s early developmental stages.

This behavior originates from kittenhood. During this time, kittens knead their mother’s belly to stimulate milk production. As they grow older, the behavior persists. The act of kneading releases endorphins in the cat’s brain. These endorphins contribute to their overall sense of well-being and happiness.

Biting blankets, on the other hand, is a behavior associated with teething and suckling instincts. Although this phase subsides as cats mature, the instinct to chew or bite can continue. This is particularly true if the cat finds the texture of the blanket appealing.

Comforting Behavior from Kittenhood

This particular behavior can be traced back to their kittenhood. During this time, they engage in a comforting and nurturing act with their mothers. When kittens are nursing, they instinctively knead their mother’s belly. This action stimulates milk production. The kneading action is accompanied by the release of oxytocin. This hormone promotes feelings of comfort and bonding between the kitten and its mother. As cats grow into adulthood, they may continue to knead and bite soft objects like blankets. This behavior evokes those comforting sensations and positive memories from their early days.

The emotional bond formed between kittens and their mothers during nursing also plays a significant role. This bond influences the behavior persisting into adulthood. As cats grow older, kneading and biting blankets can serve as a form of self-soothing in times of stress or anxiety. This behavior reminds them of the security they experienced as kittens.

Dental Health Maintenance

Chewing on soft materials like blankets can help cats remove plaque and tartar from their teeth. Over time, plaque and tartar buildup can lead to gum disease. They can also cause tooth decay and other dental problems. By biting and chewing on blankets, cats engage in a natural method of cleaning their teeth. This behavior is not a substitute for regular dental checkups and cleanings. However, it provides a supplementary benefit to their overall dental hygiene.

In addition to cleaning their teeth, the action of biting and chewing on blankets can help strengthen a cat’s jaw muscles. Regular use of these muscles is essential for maintaining proper jaw function and alignment. Biting and chewing on blankets allow cats to exercise their jaw muscles gently. This is less likely to cause injury compared to chewing on hard objects. This activity can be particularly beneficial for indoor cats. Indoor cats may not have as many opportunities to exercise their jaw muscles through hunting or play.

Stress Relief and Anxiety Reduction

Various factors may trigger stress and anxiety in cats. Some examples include moving to a new home, exposure to loud noises, or the arrival of a new pet in the household. Kneading and biting blankets provide a calming activity for cats. This activity allows them to manage their emotional responses to these triggers. Engaging in this behavior activates the release of endorphins. Endorphins specifically counteract stress hormones. This helps cats relax and feel more at ease.

Kneading and biting blankets can also serve as a form of self-soothing for cats experiencing separation anxiety. When their owners are away, some cats may feel distressed. They seek comfort in familiar objects, such as blankets. The act of kneading and biting these familiar items can create a sense of security and reassurance. This helps cats cope with their owner’s absence.

Kitten sitting on bed near blanket

Territory Marking with Pheromones

Cats have specialized scent glands in their paw pads, which produce pheromones unique to each individual. When a cat kneads a blanket, it presses its paws against the fabric, depositing these pheromones onto the surface. This creates an invisible chemical message that informs other cats about the presence and ownership of the marked territory.

The act of biting blankets can complement the pheromone marking process. Although cats do not possess scent glands in their mouths, biting blankets helps in spreading their scent through their saliva, amplifying their territorial claim. This behavior holds particular significance in multi-cat households or environments where the cat may feel threatened by the presence of unfamiliar felines.

Texture and Taste Response

Cats’ paw pads are equipped with specialized nerve endings called Merkel cells. These cells are highly sensitive to pressure and texture. They allow cats to perceive even the slightest variations in the surfaces they touch. When cats knead blankets made from materials like fleece, faux fur, or wool, the sensation created by these textures can be particularly appealing. This is due to their sensitive paw pads. It results in an enjoyable and engaging experience for the cat.

Furthermore, cats are known for their keen sense of smell. Their sense of smell is closely linked to their sense of taste. Their olfactory system can detect specific compounds in the environment, including those found on blankets. For example, a cat might be attracted to a blanket that carries traces of their owner’s scent. This provides a sense of familiarity and comfort. Similarly, cats might find certain fabric softeners or laundry detergents appealing. This is due to the presence of specific odorants. In these cases, the cat may bite the blanket to explore and savor the appealing scent. This scent is translated into taste through their olfactory system.

Self-Soothing and Relaxation

One hypothesis is that kneading releases endorphins in a cat’s brain. These endorphins act as natural stress-relievers. They are also known as “feel-good” hormones. Endorphins help elevate mood and provide a sense of tranquility. When cats knead blankets, they might be seeking the pleasurable effects of endorphin release. This contributes to a more relaxed state.

Additionally, cats may bite blankets as a form of non-nutritive suckling behavior. Non-nutritive suckling is an instinctual behavior observed in some adult cats. It is often seen as a carryover from their kittenhood. When a cat suckles on a blanket, it may be reminiscent of nursing from its mother. Nursing was a source of comfort and nourishment. As adult cats, they may continue to engage in this behavior as a means of self-soothing. This is even though no milk is being consumed. The act of biting and suckling on the blanket can provide an outlet for cats to reduce anxiety.

Play Behavior and Simulation

It may replicate stalking and pouncing on prey. When cats knead blankets, they might be practicing the motions they would use while stalking and pouncing on their prey in the wild. This activity keeps their muscles engaged. It also refines their motor skills. They remain agile and capable hunters.

Furthermore, biting blankets can resemble the act of delivering a precise bite to immobilize prey. In the wild, cats need to learn how and where to bite their prey effectively. This ensures a quick and successful capture. Biting blankets can serve as a form of practice for this essential skill. It reinforces their natural predatory instincts. This play behavior not only helps maintain their hunting abilities but also provides crucial mental and physical stimulation.

Muscle Stretching and Flexibility

When cats knead, they engage in a process called “reciprocal motion.” They move each front paw alternatively, extending and retracting their claws. This movement helps to stretch the tendons and ligaments in their paws and legs. It promotes flexibility and prevents stiffness. Kneading also activates the muscles in the cat’s shoulders and upper back. This ensures these muscle groups remain supple and strong.

As for biting blankets, this behavior can help maintain the flexibility of a cat’s jaw muscles and joints. When a cat bites and tugs on a blanket, it exercises the masseter and temporalis muscles. These muscles are responsible for jaw movement and strength. This activity also provides a gentle stretch to the temporomandibular joint. It helps maintain its mobility and prevent stiffness.