Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

Medically reviewed by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
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Cats are notorious for being ornery, aloof, and sometimes just plain weird. They exhibit a variety of behaviors that don’t always make sense to us cat owners, but we love them anyway.

Though every cat is different, most exhibit kneading behavior at one time or another. Sometimes they knead their bed before lying down or knead their feline friend during grooming. If you’re lucky, you may even be the recipient of kneading yourself!

As is true for many cat behaviors, no one knows exactly why cats knead but there are a few theories.

What Is Cat Kneading?

Kneading is a repetitive, rhythmic motion during which cats will push their paws into and out of a soft surface, alternating between paws. Cats love to knead on soft surfaces like blankets, pillows, plush carpeting, a person’s lap, or a couch.

Most cats like to knead, which resembles the act of a person kneading dough. Thus, cat kneading is often called ‘making biscuits.’

Some cats will extend and retract their claws as they knead while others will keep their claws fully retracted while they knead. Also, some cats will use only the front paws to knead, while others use all four paws.

Kneading is adorable and fascinating to watch. Plus, cats can get become relaxed they that their jaws become slack and they start to drool. Imagine that!

Why Do Cats Knead?

Kneading is an instinctive behavior in cats that begins soon after birth. Though the exact reason for kneading is unknown, animal experts have a few theories.

Cat kneading may happen for the following reasons:

  • To stimulate the flow of milk during nursing
  • To stretch muscles after a nap
  • To relax after a stressful situation
  • To indicate a readiness to mate
  • To mark that cat’s territory
  • To prepare a space before sleeping or giving birth

Some animal experts suggest the behavior of kneading began with wild female cats – that kneading was involved in preparing nests among tall grass and leaves before giving birth or for the purpose of resting after a day of hunting.

Today, you can observe cats kneading right before they settle down to sleep.

Another potential reason for kneading has to do with territorial behavior. Cats have scent glands in their paws, so kneading imparts some of the cat’s personal scent onto the area they’re kneading, effectively marking it as their “territory.”

Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

Not all cats are the cuddly type, but those who are can often be found curled up in their owner’s lap. If you have a lap cat, you’ve likely experienced kneading up close and personal. If your cat likes to extend their claws when kneading, though, this adorable behavior could end up becoming uncomfortable or even painful for you.

So, why do cats and kittens knead their owners?

One theory hearkens back to the idea of territorial marking. Some cats form close bonds with their owners and can become quite territorial of them. If that sounds like your cat, it may be kneading to release its scent onto you, marking you as the cat’s territory.

A cat may also knead its owner if the owner is wearing something soft, like a sweatshirt, woolen shawl, or any other soft and supple fabric. These types of materials make great sleeping surfaces. The same way you’d fluff up your pillows and blankets before napping, cats do the same by kneading.

Some theorize that cats knead on their owners in reminiscence of their days as a kitten. Your lap is just as warm as their mother’s belly was, so your adult cat could be kneading on you to relive the comfort and security of the time they spent nursing. Kneading helps stimulate milk production from the mother’s teat.

How To Stop Your Cat From Kneading?

Many of the behaviors cat owners take issue with are actually rooted in evolutionary instinct. We may not understand why cats exhibit certain behaviors, but we know they’re natural because we can see them in the wild cats from which domestic cats evolved.

Some suggest that a cat kneading its owner is a sign of affection and flattery. The cat is basically saying it really loves you and enjoys your company. Even so, kneading can become bothersome or even a hassle if your cat wants to knead on you all the time.

There’s also the possibility that kneading can become painful if your cat doesn’t retract his claws.

So, how do you stop your cat from kneading?

Here are a few tips:

  • If you don’t want your cat to knead on you or on the furniture, try to gently pick them up and place them on another surface, such as their own bed or a soft blanket.
  • You can direct your cat’s behavior by distracting them with a toy or treat. When your cat starts to knead, offer the treat or toy – eventually, your cat should start favoring the new behavior.
  • Keep your cat’s nails trimmed to prevent it from hooking on clothing or hurting you. Ideally, you should trim your cat’s claw’s every 10 to 14 days.
  • Try using pheromones spray or Feliway products to encourage your cat to knead on other more appropriate surfaces.
  • Keep a thick blanket handy and place it on your lap when you’re sitting down so your cat can safely knead the blanket without hurting you.

It’s important that you never punish your cat for kneading. Kneading is an instinctive behavior for cats, so unless the kneading behavior is truly bothersome, let your cat knead in peace and try to enjoy it.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is my cat’s kneading normal?

Yes, kneading is a natural behavior for cats. Though we may not know exactly why they do it, it’s a behavior we see in wild cats which suggests domestic cats inherited the instinct from their wild ancestors.

Is cat kneading a sign of affection?

Some animal experts suggest a cat kneading their owner is a sign of affection. If your cat appears to be calm and content while kneading you, it may be true!

How do I stop a cat from kneading?

Never punish your cat for kneading. Instead, you can take steps to prevent kneading from hurting you or damaging your furniture, or you can redirect your cat’s attention with toys or treats t discourage it.

Why do cats knead your belly?

As with many behavioral questions, it's difficult to give a definite answer to this question. If your cat kneads your belly rather than other parts of your body, chances are they like its warmth and softness. Don't be offended—your cat feels comfy and safe when they're...well...kneading your dough!

Why do cats knead and purr?

Both kneading and purring are behaviors associated with feelings of comfort, safety, and wellbeing. It's natural that they often happen at the same time.

What is considered obsessive kneading in cats?

Whether or not kneading is obsessive is a nuanced question. Obsessive kneading may manifest as a response to stress, so you might notice an uptick in your cat's kneading that coincides with other behavioral changes or a change in the environment.

Why do cats knead before sleeping?

Cats usually knead when they're feeling relaxed, and relaxation often comes before sleep.

Why do cats knead and bite blankets?

It all comes down to instinctive behavior rooted in kittenhood. Kneading and suckling behavior mimics what your cat would have done while nursing. It's a form of comforting behavior that usually means that your cat feels cozy and safe.

33 thoughts on “Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

    1. Charles

      Thank you for an enjoyable and interesting article. Until I was adopted by a wonderful black cat, who bears the name Covington, I considered myself a dog person. Now I’m a cat’s person.
      Covington follows very specific routines, on if which is kneading. However he always does so after he sleeps, not before.

      Reply
  1. Shiralee Barrow

    Hi my cat also neads me also with her back paws and with a flick out with one back paw with eyes blacked out I call it blissing out its so gentle I do have tummy problems and watch her carefully feeding around and surching in different spots and really working on them it is so cute I feel very privileged I do believe she understands something wrong in my tummy.

    Reply
    1. Cindy

      Hi there! One of my cats in particular kneads me a lot and it seems as though he is really trying to help me. He looks so wise and caring like a little masseur! Also, he doesn’t do it with his claws so I just feel the massage part of it. I always thank him and give him lots of scratches and pets afterward so I’m sure that let’s him know I like it.

      Reply
  2. Jo Ann

    Makes sense! Thank you. I have a new kitten and he kneads all over me, rubs, rolls on me…he loves me! My year old boy (cat) was never this affectionate, so this a huge change.

    Reply
  3. Mads

    My cat I raised and bottle fed when he was a little baby. He was a feral cat that I took in along with his siblings. The one I speak of has extreme kneading problems. I’ve had cats that do this but not on the level he does. Whenever he’s near me he will try to get close and squeeze on to my lap or whatever and knead my freaking skin out. I might have to cut his claws because he kneads hard and deep and doesn’t mind doing it on my skin, in fact that’s what he always aims for is my skin even when I put his paws somewhere else he ends up back at my bare skin. He’ll constantly move and knead to the point where I always have to kick him out of bed because it’s a actual problem and I can’t sleep or do whatever I’m trying to do. I know the kitties love me because I was the one who raised them but I wish this guy would settle down and chill out a bit lol cuz I wouldnt mind him chilling and laying with me but he can never just do that. He can go all day kneading me non stop and constantly moving around pushing up all over me. Idk what to do I think he knows I don’t like him doing it on my skin and just doesn’t care.

    Reply
    1. jean grey

      Teehee, so sweet.

      I had the same problem with my kitty. Something I did was condition her to learn the word, “careful!” Anytime she kneads too hard with her claws, I gently say “CAREful, CAREful!” as I hold her little paws in my hand and rub them gently. Over 2-3 weeks, she began to understand what it meant, and she always adjusts mindfully to just using her paws, not claws.

      My girl still gets crazy while kneading, using her claws almost violently– it’s not her fault, she just gets really into it. I always react and even exaggerate a jumpy motion and say softly, “Ouch, kitten, ouchies!” and of course, “CAREful, kitten, CAAAREful.”

      I enlarge my eyes, smiling, while I say “Ouchies,” and “CAREful;” and when she notices and becomes more gentle, I blink my eyes slowly at her and say, “thaaaaank you, kitten.” She totally understands me.

      They are unbelievable communicators: so receptive, intuitive, and they always respond to kindness with kindness and understanding. It’s all about talking to your crazy boy nicely, and also expression through your eyes. He will learn what pain looks like if you express it with your eyes and your language, especially tone of voice. And, always a soft, “thaaank youu,” is like a reward to them.

      Reply
  4. Paul Matthews

    My cat gives me a free massage every morning. He kneads with all four feet going from my neck down to my lower back, up and down, purring loudly the whole time. . This can go on for 10-15 minutes some days. It’s hysterical and feels great. I’m not sure where he went to massage school, but he’s good! A great way to wake up.

    Reply
  5. tracy rudwick

    why would my cat alway kneads me on my neck and then lick me i thought they only do it on your lap

    Reply
  6. Ackie Scott

    My cat loves to knead on my lap. But I put a blanket on first he kneads for awhile then goes to sleep. March 24 2019 Jackie Scott

    Reply
    1. Hope

      I really enjoy her kneading . Actaually I invite her to do it. So gentle and soothing, never uses her claws . Bless my cat zelda

      Reply
  7. Marina L

    Please do not recommend trimming a cat’s nails. It causes them a lifetime of pain. They are animals with feelings not just toys to be modified for human comfort.

    Reply
    1. Beach Blonde

      The poster said “TRIM” the cat’s nails, not “surgically remove”.

      You’re talking about surgical removal. Trimming a cat’s nails can be a critical part of health and grooming, especially for indoor cats that don’t encounter enough rough surfaces &/or use scratching posts to keep their nails properly trimmed and slightly rounded/dull on their own.

      Reply
      1. Meg L.

        Absolutely AGREE! Trimming is NECESSARY. I have an indoor kitty and 2 indoor/outdoor kitties. My indoor kitty will start pulling at his own claws when they start getting too sharp and too long if I do not trim them. BEFORE we found out that removing a cat’s claws was really bad for them (like 30 years ago) I had my first kitty’s claws removed (she was an indoor kitty as well – would have never done it had she been an outdoor cat or had I known what we know now) and thank god she lived for 23 years!!! However, absolutely DO NOT recommend, nor do I know of any veterinarians, that will fully “declaw” a cat in this day and age.
        Also, trimming is necessary due to that if your kitty feels the need to bite it or pull it off (1) it could break off and be swallowed by your kitty (not healthy for the digestive system), or (2) split and cause an immense amount of pain for your kitty, which would make it extremely difficult to cut the nail at that point without hitting the quik which would cause bleeding. So keeping them neatly trimmed is ABSOLUTELY BEST!! 🙂

        Reply
        1. Meg L.

          P.S. My kitty always kneads me before taking a nice nap, I keep his nails trimmed, however he likes to keep them sharp with the scratching post I provide. LOL 🙂 So I keep a blanket between he and I. But it’s the sweetest thing in the world. I’ve had him since he was 4 weeks old and since I work from home, all we do is spend all day together…currently we are in a LONG process of attempting to potty train (and yes I meant POTTY TRAIN) like the real POTTY! He is litterbox trained…but we thought we’d give it a shot and we are over halfway there! It does work and I would never go back! So just a little tip – if you have a kitten or the patience and time – try it out!! There’s a training kit on Amazon – Check it out! Good luck!

          Reply
    2. James Y

      Yes, I agree Marina. A cat’s nails are the only source of defence that they have. If you trim them to make them blunt, they may feel defenseless and helpless. I have experienced this before. After we trimmed the nails, Simba immediately ran away under the master bed to hide from my little brother (Who doesn’t know how to bond with a cat).

      Reply
    3. James Y

      Yes, I agree Marina. A cat’s nails are the only source of weapons that they have to defend themselves. If you trim them to make them blunt, they may feel defenseless and helpless. I have experienced this before. After we trimmed the nails, Simba immediately ran away under the master bed to hide from my little brother (Who doesn’t know how to bond with a cat).

      Reply
  8. Carolyn

    What are you saying? Trimming a cat’s nails is perfectly fine, it’s like when you get your nails trimmed. You’re confusing trimming with surgical removal… Trimming doesn’t do them a bit of harm could you may want to reword your comment

    Reply
  9. Ellen Becerra

    My cat Dulce does her kneading on me. She always go the spot where I had hip surgery. She must sense the pains and aches and feels she is helping me as well as herself. She is so loving but is reluctant to be a lap cat. Love her

    Reply
  10. Heidi Blake

    We have a sweet boy kitty that we just adopted 5 months ago. He is 8 years old, declawed, (he came that way, I wouldn’t ever declaw a cat). His original family was moving away and for some reason they weren’t able to take him with them. That’s a hard one for me to understand but at least they loved him enough to take him to our local SPCA and actually pay a fee for them to rehome him. He was in the system about a week and a half. I have had many cats in my 55 years but this kitty sure is different than most, in a great way! For a cat that was taken out of his life long home and at a shelter for a week before coming to our home, he sure adjusted quickly. Like in a couple of hours, lol! It’s just the two of us, my sweetie, Bud and I, no children and no other animals (I’m sure that helped him adjust). He is extremely vocal, and loves conversation. He is also the most confident cat I have ever met. He is also the tallest cat I have ever met! His legs, tail, and body are all extremely long! When he is walking beside me his tail almost touches my hip! When he stands on his hind legs he can reach everything on the table, he can reach everything on the vanity in the bathroom, and believe me he helps himself, especially anything that is liquid that he can spill – on purpose! Anyway, we are talking about the kneading thing. I have had many cats that do this and I think it’s sweet too. My sweetie Bud, is 69 years old and has never had a cat in his life! He had lots of dogs but never a cat. I’m at home quite a bit alone because I have Lupus, and a bunch of back surgeries. I haven’t worked since I was 40. With an extremely bad back and nerve damage, I don’t go for many car rides, or shopping trips, since I can’t stand for more than 5 minutes or so and walking around a store would be miserable. I’m pretty happy to be around the house, the aggravations that go along with lupus also help to keep me at home. We decided to get a cat for me because Bud likes to play golf with his son, and he is also a bit more social than I am, so he feels bad leaving me home alone. (What he doesn’t know, something all women in our 50’s know, is that no matter how much we love our spouses – we love when they get out of the house for the afternoon or even the evening a couple days a week – especially when they are retired and home 24/7). But, hey! I love all animals and for the 10 years that we have been together he has said no animals, due to him thinking at the beginning of our living together that because we are retired there would be travel in our future together. Well, I could have cleared that up for him at the beginning if he would have mentioned it to me – this girl does not travel! Only if it’s absolutely necessary! And necessary doesn’t mean let’s travel for a vacation! It goes along with the lupus life, traveling to me is like getting a root canal! So, since he thought a cat would be a good idea for me, I jumped (well in my heart, but not my body, lol) for joy! I had decided we would look for a mature or senior cat. Let people that need kittens have the kittens, I wanted a kitty that needed us as much as we needed him or her. So, this big (not fat) long cat (about 18#) came to live with us, and within a couple hours, he owned us and the house. When it was time for bed he ran into the bedroom once we had climbed into bed and wiggled himself right in between us! And ………………started the kneading game with Bud. Bud thought it was the funniest thing, he had never seen a cat or any animal do that! He called it marching! He really liked it at first, he didn’t know cats could actually show that they liked someone. He thought they were all either aloof or scaredy cats, and he thought cats were….Dumb! I was almost offended when I heard him say that the first time! Well, Bud and His cat Buddy Jr. now have quite the bromance! They just love each other. Bud is a retired mechanic, a sweet man, but kind of a tough guy. Buddy and Bud play all through the house! Bud chases Buddy through the house and then Buddy chases him back, but when Buddy catches Bud it’s all out body slam time. Or he will sit back and wait and jump from the floor to Bud’s shoulder with that body slam and a big yoowl!! It’s too funny! Anyway, Buddy does his kneading every night. But there is one thing we have noticed and It’s actually something I have never encountered before with any cat I have ever had. Buddy gets going on the kneading, he’s purring, and pumping on Bud’s tummy, then he starts moving his back half around a bit. He sort of starts to knead with his back feet, but not quite. As I am watching from the side – what I see is a cat that looks kind of like he is positioning his back legs to urinate. It alarmed me a bit the first few times I saw it because I didn’t want him to pee on his new dad because that definitely might hurt their bromance. Well, he isn’t going to urinate, but his next move is to sit back like he is going to bathe, his privates. He does a bit of that, just a couple seconds, then out comes his penis, barbs and all. He licks it a bit, he seems really happy doing this. I’m really not trying to be juvenile about this but I have never seen a cat do this in my life! After he gets done with whatever it is he is doing he is ready to get comfy for the night and go to sleep! I’m not quite sure what to tell Bud about this behavior but I don’t really want him to talk about it with anybody else because they may get the wrong idea! You know men, they can get kind of guttery in their talk. He talks to Buddy about it like he’s talking to another man, lol! Please realize there is no sexual stimuli for us at all, just bad manly humor emoting from the man I thought was such a sweet gentleman!! I guess boys will be boys, even if they are almost 70 years old! Seriously, though has anybody ever seen or heard of this behavior in a male cat? I am really out of my league on this one. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Simicon

      My cat does something similar and weird.. he kneads on a really soft blanket with his front paws while standing on my leg when we are laying down before bed. He then twitches his whole body. At first I just thought he was flicking his tail but it’s s not just that, it goes thru his whole body, like he was just zapped or something! And it’s exactly every 3-4 seconds. He’s neutered. When he’s done kneading, he sits back and cleans himself like he just had an orgasm! Sorry to sound so graphic, but that’s what it looks like? Anyone hear of this? I’ll record him next time and share. It’s just the weirdest thing!! I’ve never seen any of the many many cats I’ve owned do this!

      Reply
    2. Sheila H.

      My male neutered cat does something very similar. He straddles my arm and kneads with his front paws and wiggles his back. Then he lays down on my arm and continues kneading in this trance state. When he finishes he jumps down and licks himself. It’s good to know that other cats do something similar. I let him do what he wants. This is his way of telling me he loves and adores me. So I let him bond with me. Which is an important part of our daily routine.

      Reply
    3. Jack

      Seriously? That is so weird. Lol. I have encountered a similar cat behavior like this tho. When my cat James jr (named after my bro), came onto my body and began kneading me. But after kneading for about 30 seconds, he raised his back feet like he was gonna wee on me, but then starts to kick me softly on my leg.

      Reply
  11. Tonnie Moon

    Thanks for this, I had no idea what Sherman was doing! I called it “stepping” but he keeps this blank look on his face, I was a little worried!
    Thanks for the reassurrance, much appreciated!

    Reply
  12. Evalyn Charalambous

    I just adopted 2 little rescue kittens, brother and sister. My little girl gives you a quick gentle knead then settles but my boy kneads me with all his might and always on my skin. He gets up into my neck with his paws on either side and his head tucked under my chin and away he goes like there is no tomorrow. If I move him to my clothes he just comes straight back. It takes him a good 15 minutes or so to decide I’m done, then he lies across my neck and finally sleeps. I had to clip his claws to cope. I just took the very tips. He can still climb so all is well.

    Reply
  13. GGof9

    This is so interesting! We have a male cat that loves to knead us…especially my husband. I suspected it was inherent from when he was a kitten nursing his mother. I never realized it was a way they show affection and mark their spot on their favorite humans. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Mystic

      I have male cat that loves to knead on me. He had a sister (unfortunately she died) that also loved kneading. This is the first time I’ve seen such behaviour. As soon as I laid down on my bed, both of them started knead on me (on my back and my neck), purring, then fell asleep not long after. But they’ve never done this to my sister or my mom, only me. I think it’s because I’m the one who always take care of them.

      Reply
  14. Peter Perrino

    My kitty does the same as everyone else, except he nibbles on me just a little not hard just nice.

    Reply
  15. mckenzie

    i’ve noticed that my new cat is kneading a lot, he comes and kneads on my arms, then my boyfriends arms or chest and of course the blanket and mattress. but my other cat that we’ve had for so long has never done it before and it seems like he gets up on the bed to cuddle but he smells the new cat and just leaves. what can i do to make him stay?

    Reply
    1. Mallory Crusta

      Hi McKenzie, this is a fun question. You may just have to wait for your cat to get comfortable with the presence of the new kitty in the home. You might also have to develop a new routine. My cat, Wessie, for example, doesn’t feel comfortable hanging out on the bed when Forest is present, so they have to alternate snuggle times or spend time in separate locations. I know it’s not a satisfying answer, but I think that you’re just going to have to wait and see on this one. You can also get help from the All About Cats community. Our behavior experts and fellow cat guardians might be able to give you some more insight. All the best, Mallory

      Reply
  16. Alex

    Kneading is a very weird habit of cats. My cat, Simba loves kneading my stomach when I lie down to relax on the couch. However she has never used her claws to knead me. It is always her pads so she cannot hurt me and I am grateful for that. I’m pretty sure that she wants to mark me as her territory because she kneads usually for around 20 minutes to make sure I have her scent. The she runs off. I know this because she also doesn’t want my other cats to play with me for a long time.

    Reply

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