All cats-owners have experienced the moment when their cat jumps up and with cautious movements settles itself down on their lap. After a short pause it starts to press down , first with one front paw and then with the other, alternating them in a rhythmic kneding or trampling action. The rhythm is slow and deliberate as if the animalq is marking time in slow motion. As the action becomes more intense the prick of claws can be felt, and at this point the owner usually becomes irritated and shoos the cat away, or gently picks it up and places it on the floor. The cat is clearly upset by this rebuff and the owners are similarly put out when, brushing away a gew cat hairs, they discover that the animal has been dribbling while trampling, What does all this mean?
To find the answer it is necessary to watch kittens feeding at the nipple or teat. There the same actions can be observed, with the kittens’ tiny paws kneading away at their mother’s belly. These are the movements which stimulate the flow of milk to the nipples or teats and the dribbling is part of the mouthwatering anticipation of delicious nourishment to come. This ‘milk-treading’, as it is called, is done at a very slow pace of approximately one stroke every seconds, and it is always accompanied by loud purring. What happens when the adult cat tramples on the lap of its human owner must therefore be interpreted as a piece of infantile behaviour. It would seem that when the owner sits down in a relaxed manner, signals are given off saying to the cat, ‘I am your mother lying down ready to feed you at the breast’. The adult cat then proceeds torevert to kittenhood and squats there, purring contentedly and going through the motions of stimulating a milk supply.
From the cat’s point of view this is a warm, loving moment and its bodily removal by a claw-pricked owner must be quite inexplicable. No good cat mother would behave in such a negative way! People react in differently. To the cat they are clearly maternal figures, because they do supply milk (in a saucer) and other nourishment, and they do sit down showing their undersides in an inviting manner, but once the juvenile reaction of milk-treading is given, they suddenly and mystifyingly become upset and thrust the pseudo-ijfant from them.
This is a classic example of the way in which interactions bewteen humans and cats can lead to misunderstandings. Many can be avoided by recognizing the fact that an adult domestic cat remains a kitten in its behaviour towards its pseudo-parental owner.