Little furry, rounded paws make dents in your flesh. Someone is walking all over you. The soft and smooth pads at the bottom of those precious feline feet make you giggle. Isn't she cuuuuuute?

Just as you're falling in love... ready to give her everything, sign over the deed to your land and your car and climb up into the sky to catch a star for her... her cute paws begin to flex and extend. Razor-sharp claws meet your skin. This creature of rapture is shifting back and forth on you now, claws moving in and out.

Is this heaven, or hell, or both?

Heaven
When your cat was just a kitten, she nursed at her mama's teat. As she drew the milk out, she kneaded the underside of her mama's tummy. Some folks call that "kneading," others call it "making dough," but the purpose of the movement is to create a faster flow of milk to the nipple. No, your feline isn't interested in milking you. She's showing affection. Many cats will only perform this action on humans they love and trust. You're the mama now. Congratulations.

Some cats milk tread simply in your presence; your lap is not required. They might knead the couch you're sitting on or the pillow behind your head. This is still regarded as a sign of affection and comfort. Just as cats only clean themselves when they feel safe, they will only milk tread in their home.

Even fewer cats will milk tread on anything--and everything--in sight. These cats are more likely insecure about affection and abandonment, and use the motion as a way to comfort and calm themselves. You might find it helpful to show more physical interest in these cats; they aren't as independent as their brothers and sisters.

To give an even more rare example, my cat climbs to my shoulder and treads in my hair. Her paws get stuck in my hair, claws occasionally grazing my head. The purring in my ear is wonderful. The piercing of my scalp is not. While this isn't classic milk treading, it's common behavior for a cat who didn't nurse long enough.*

Hell
If your kitty's milk treading is bothersome or painful, there are a few things you can do to remedy the situation. First and foremost, drape something over your lap. A sweater, pillow, blanket, friend-- whatever will let the cat remain close to you without being that close to you. If you want the cat to amscray, but don't want to be mean, try picking the cat up. Most cats are less comfortable being held than lying still, and will not only stop kneading... they might also get up and leave. Didn't work? Try staring at your cat. Eye contact is a sign of intimidation for felines; your watchful gaze will send the message pretty quickly.

If the suggestions above have failed you, you are done for. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. No, seriously. Your kitty friend loves you and you're just going to have to accept it. At least now you have a more technical-sounding name for the behavior you're complaining about.

* Some people believe milk treading becomes a habit when a kitten is weaned from milk too early or too late. This explanation is a little too freudian for me.

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