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Why do cats purr and knead? Behaviour explained on International Cat Day 2021 – and how to spot a happy cat

The international day offers up an excuse to treat your feline friend to a bit of extra love

While most cat owners likely don’t need a specific day to spoil their furry friend, today offers up such an excuse, as 8 August is International Cat Day.

There are a lot of things about cats that confuse humans - like why do they purr, and why do they knead things?

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This is everything you need to know, including how to tell if your cat is happy.

Do you know how to read your cats body language? (Photo: Shutterstock)

Why do cats purr?

Purring is one of the most common noises a cat makes, and while we assume that cats purr when they are happy, they actually purr for a variety of reasons.

In most cases, yes, purring does occur when a cat is in a happy and relaxed environment, or when you stroke them and they’re feeling sociable.

According to Whiskas, other reasons for purring include being hungry, when they’re hurt or in pain, or when they’re nervous.

If your cat is purring, and they look relaxed, have their eyes half closed and their tail mostly still, then it’s safe to assume that they’re purring because they’re happy.

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Why do cats knead?

If you have a cat, you might have noticed that they knead things, from pillows to your legs.

Kneading is the rhythmic back and forth movement a cat makes by alternating their paws against something soft - some cats might use their claws, some might purr and others might even dribble when they’re doing it.

The Blue Cross explains that the habit of kneading first begins when cats are just kittens and are still dependent on their mother for milk.

Kittens will knead their mother’s stomach to stimulate the flow of milk. This is why some cats dribble when they knead, because they associate the action with their mother’s milk.

The Blue Cross says: “If your cat is kneading your lap when you have a cuddle, they could be drawing a connection from the secure relationship they had with their mother, to the relationship they have with you.

“Unfortunately, this can also mean that the happier your cat is, the harder they knead you - sorry legs!”

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What is International Cat Day?

International Cat Day is exactly what it sounds like - a day where cat owners are encouraged to celebrate kitties and show their feline friends a bit of love with a hug.

It takes place each year on 8 August, and was created in 2002 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare as a day to raise awareness for cats and learn about ways to help and protect them.

In 2020 custodianship of International Cat Day passed to International Cat Care, a non-profit British organisation that works to improve the health and welfare of domestic cats worldwide.

What are the behaviours of a happy cat?

Since our furry friends can’t communicate with us via words, many of us can get hung up worrying whether our cats are happy.

These are some of the signs of a happy cat, according to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home:

- Their tail may wave gentle and rhythmically from side to side, usually when held off the ground - but it shouldn’t be “swishing”, “trashing” or “thumping”

- You cat may produced a low pitched and pleasant purr

- Your cat will appear calmly interested in their surroundings, or they may be relatively uninterested in what’s going on around them

- They might doze or groom themselves in a relaxed manner

- They are eating, drinking, grooming, sleeping and using the toilet in regular, healthy amounts

- They may rest on their side, with their tummy exposed

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