Kali and Chase were bottle babies, so they were taken from their mother way too early. As such, there are some behaviors they never grew out of: Wool sucking, and kneading. Cat behaviorists believe that kittens need to be with their mothers until about 12 weeks of age, rather than the usual six to eight weeks. This could be why we have so many cats that engage in wool sucking.
It may also be why cats knead on pillows, blankets, your stomach, and whatever else that might remind them of their mothers’ bellies. When Kali does it, she very gently touches her muzzle to whatever it is she’s kneading on. It’s usually either one of us, or her favorite pillow, like in the video below:
Kneading behavior is both kitten behavior and a way of showing affection
The fact that she was a bottle baby explains a lot of her kneading behavior. She didn’t have her mother to teach her, and wean here. She had us, and she thinks that we’re her mama. PetMD concurs that her kneading very well may signal that she’s “a kid at heart.” Nursing kittens instinctively knead on their mothers’ bellies to stimulate milk production. They knead before they learn to walk, before they learn anything other than nursing.
Another reason for the kneading behavior is affection. You might have noticed that your cat flexes her paws on your lap when she’s relaxed, content, and purring. PetMD says that kneading and flexing can be one way our cats tell us they love us and they’re happy. Unfortunately, it can hurt, since the happier they are, the harder they knead.
Kneading behavior in the wild
There’s also the possibility that your cat kneads because she’s softening up her nest. Our cats’ ancestors liked to make sure their nests were soft and comfortable, either to sleep or to give birth. Kneading down tall grass was a way of making a safe, warm, comfortable nest, and also allowed her to check the area for potential hazards and hidden enemies. If your cat’s favorite time and place to knead is in her usual sleeping spot, it’s entirely likely that’s what she’s doing.
The only real problem with kneading is her claws, so if she’s tearing up pillows and blankets, or your clothes, train her to use old blankets and clothes for her beds, instead of your good things. But kneading behavior itself is normal, affectionate, and basically kitten behavior. Treasure it.