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Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

This article was written by TOBALIE in cooperation with Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

So-called milk treading is a rhythmic, gentle, stepping movement of the front paws. This is a natural behaviour of the cat, especially in kittens and young animals. But why do you see adult cats treading all the time? Is it to be interpreted exclusively as a sign of the cat’s comfort? 

Original function of milk treading

After a kitten sees the light of day, it instinctively crawls to its mother’s teat. Once docked, the little kittens start to kick against the mother’s belly. Alternately, the left and then the right paw is pushed forward. It is a really cute picture, which is comparable to the kneading of a dough. Some kittens also extend their claws during this process, which in turn might be less pleasant for their cat mother. 

During the milk treading the production of breast milk is stimulated and the milk can flow better. It is also said that the so-called “ejection reflex” is triggered. When the teat is mechanically stimulated, sensitive nerves are stimulated to send impulses to the brain. There, the production of certain hormones that stimulate the mammary glands begins. This process takes about ten seconds. 

Fun fact: Not only house cats can exhibit this behaviour, dogs, rodents and even pigs also kick at their mothers’ bellies when they are babies. Unlike some cats, however, they get used to this habit as they get older. 

Green Rubin - Katzenangel

Die nachhaltige und langlebige Katzenangel aus Sisal und Holz.

Function of milk treading into old age

Cats, on the other hand, can show this behaviour even in adulthood, some even into old age. Milk treading is usually accompanied by extensive purring and sometimes from light love bites to less pleasant nipping with the claws. 

  • So if your adult cat is happily milk treading in most cases this is a good sign. They then feel particularly safe and extremely secure. 
  • It has also been observed that cats show this behaviour to make their sleeping or resting place as comfortable as possible. This is comparable to fluffing up the cushion in humans. 
  • Pregnant cats who want to prepare themselves for birth also tend to do this.
  • In addition, individual scents are spread through milk treading. There are scent glands under the paws that are stimulated by treading. So when your darling lies on top of you and lovingly massages your belly, it can also mean that she now sees you as her own. But this is also just to show you her affection. 
  • This also makes territorial claims, for example when she wants to claim your favourite chair. 
  • If your little furry friend also sticks her bottom up in the air during the treadling and meows and screams bitterly out of fervour, you cannot exclude the possibility that she is in heat. It is assumed that the cat wants to calm itself down (similar to purring). 
  • Also in stressful situations or chronic stress, such behaviour can be shown, just for reasons of self-regulation. Therefore, milk treading is not always a sign of well-being.
Kitten are milk treading by the mother cat


Milk treading is a natural and instinctive behaviour, which not only small kittens can show. Most cats will milk-tread well into old age, especially when they want to express their affection and comfort. In some cases, however, milk treading can also be a sign of restlessness and stress or have a function.