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Home > Cats > Why Do Cats Massage Other Cats? Is it Playful?

Why Do Cats Massage Other Cats? Is it Playful?

Two ginger cats grooming each other

When you think of cats you probably don’t think of them as masterful masseurs, but they are actually skilled and frequent massagers. Domestic cats use their front paws to precisely massage or knead things, working in a rhythmic pattern alternating pushing with first one paw and then the other. Often claws are involved with the paw massage—as pressure is applied with the paw the sharp and surprisingly long claws are slowly extended sinking deep into whatever surface they happen to be massaging.

When cats massage, they are usually in a relaxed and comfortable state, with an air of contentment about them. In this state, they may massage you, their bed, other pets, or sometimes even one another. Read on to find out what a cat’s motivation to massage might be. In short, cats massage other cats instinctively, as a form of social bonding.


When Do Cats Learn to Massage Each Other?

Cats don’t learn to massage—they are born with the ability. When kittens are born, they are unable to see or hear. However, they have a strong sense of touch, which they use to find their mother’s nipples. Once they find the nipple, they start to suckle and massage their mother’s breast. The massage helps stimulate the flow of milk. Cats continue to massage their mother’s breasts even after they can see and hear. This instinct to massage soft surfaces with their paws is lifelong and you will often see adult cats massaging soft surfaces such as blankets, cushions, and soft toys.

grey mother cat nursing kittens
Image By: Rashid Valitov, Shutterstock

Sleep Routine

You will frequently observe cats exhibiting kneading behavior before going to sleep.  Cats will massage their bedding – pushing and pulling it with their paws and claws – in a slow rhythmic pattern. They will sit with their shoulders up—front legs straight—and then slowly and deliberately knead the spot they are going to sleep in. It’s thought that this behavior goes back to wild cats who would have to flatten grasses or rushes to make a bed for themselves every night.

However, if you look at the movement pattern it doesn’t look very effective. So it’s possible the habit is simply part of a cat’s routine to relax and calm themselves before curling up to sleep.


The act of kneading may also be a healthy cat behavior that stimulates blood flow and stretches the feet and legs, providing a relaxing experience. This behavior is often first seen in kittens as they start to explore their environment and learn about their own bodies, but it continues into adulthood as a form of self-care. When cats are anxious or stressed, they can use kneading to comfort themselves, making use of the connection to feelings of security and contentment from their kittenhood.

Sharing the Love—Is Massaging Among Cats Playful?

Cats are fastidiously clean animals, something they learn from their mothers, and they engage in mutual grooming as a means of social bonding and communication. Massaging is a deeply rewarding experience for a cat that usually only happens when they are in a relaxed and calm state. It is only natural that a cat shares this experience with the other cats in their social group by massaging one another. When cats start kneading one another they are generally not signaling that they want to play. Through massage, they reinforce their social bonds and share feelings of contentment and safety.

Cats don’t confine giving massages only to other cats though, they can also massage the pets they live with such as dogs, or even you, their owner. Your feline companion is most likely to start massaging you whilst sitting on your lap after you have been petting them for a while. They will have entered a calm state and are content before they start massaging, which they use to show their affection for you and to deepen the state that they are in.

Claiming Ownership

Most cats have scent glands in their paws. These glands produce pheromones, which are chemicals that send messages to other cats. Pheromones can be used to communicate a variety of things, and in this case, the cat is marking their territory and claiming ownership. When a cat rubs its paw on something, it is massaging the scent glands and releases pheromones onto the object and into the air. Other cats can then pick up on these pheromones and interpret the message.

For example, if a cat rubs its paw on a piece of furniture, it is likely trying to mark that furniture as its own territory. So, next time your cat starts massaging something, take a moment to think about what message it might be trying to send!

Female cats may also offer up a massage to a male cat just as they are going into heat. The massage is a signal that the female cat is interested in the male and that she is open to attention and affection from him. In addition to the physical massage, the male cat will pick up on pheromones that are being released which will give him additional information. Once the female cat is ready to mate, she won’t use massage to signal, instead, she will raise her rear end with her tail cocked to one side to demonstrate what she wants.

Why is My Cat Aggressively Kneading?

When cats knead intensively it is likely that they are focused on using the scent glands located in the soft pads on the bottom of their paws to mark their territory and claim their property. Whilst signaling ownership is a normal part of cat behavior, doing so intensely might be a sign that the cat feels the need to make it extra clear to any other cats in the area what is theirs.

cat kneading
Image By: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Why Do Cats Headbutt?

Cats have scent glands in multiple places on their bodies which they can use to rub on surfaces to mark them. Some of these scent glands are in their head and so when cats headbutt you they are probably rubbing their head on you which releases some of their pheromones onto you. However, your cat may simply be trying to get your attention and by using their head to bump you they are inviting you to stroke them somewhere on their head. Try giving them a scratch under the chin or around their ears.



In conclusion, cats like to massage for a variety of reasons but mostly it is related to the natural feeding instinct as a kitten and the feelings of safety and contentment derived from massaging their mother’s mammary glands to stimulate the flow of milk. As adults, whenever cats massage objects, other cats, or you, they recreate for themselves a similar mental state to those experienced during kittenhood.

Massaging also releases pheromones from a cat’s paws that scent and marks where they have massaged letting other cats know that they have been there.

Featured Image Credit: Films42, Pixabay

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