February 2, 2012 From Harvard-trained cat behaviorist, Mieshelle Nagelschneider
As a cat behaviorist and cat whisperer (science-based), I get this cat behavior question posed to me quite often — “Why do cats knead or try and cover their food?”.
Here’s the answer:
This kneading behavior is a very common and instinctual behavior seen in adult cats as well as kittens. Also known as “milk treading”, kneading behavior (often accompanied by purring) is a behavior from kitten-hood that stimulated milk flow from the mother cat’s teats. If kittens are abruptly weaned or orphaned from their mother, they are much more likely to perform this kneading behavior for the rest of their lives; but any adult cat can knead on their owner when they are feeling relaxed and content. In fact, all of my six cats have occasionally “made biscuits” on my leg while I’m at the computer or on top of my head while I’m sleeping!
When your cat is kneading on you, she is feeling the most relaxed and happy, so take it as a sign that she feels
very comfortable and safe with you. What you’re observing is a common cat behavior and she should be allowed to continue!
Covering food is a survival instinct attributable to your cat’s ancestors (the African Wildcat). By covering their dead
prey (in this case, his cat food), they are attempting to hide the leftovers so that
predators or competitors are not drawn to the area.
If your cat’s water bowl is next to his food, his pawing around the water bowl may be an attempt to cover the entire area so
it’s not a draw to other animals. If he is kneading his front paws against the floor near his water bowl or on the edge of the
bowl, this is a leftover nursing behavior from kitten-hood.
Mieshelle Nagelschneider C.A.T Counselor