Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

This article was reviewed by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM.

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, soft carpeting, a person’s lap, or a couch.

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

Some cats will extend and retract their claws as they knead. Other cats 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 so relaxed they that relax their jaws and start to drool. Imagine that!

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Why Do Cats Knead?

Kneading is instinctive in cats and begins soon after birth. The main reasons why cats knead are listed below:

  • Stimulate milk flow from the mother’s nipples during nursing
  • Relax after a stressful situation
  • Stretch muscles after a nap
  • Indicate a readiness to mate
  • Mark territory
  • Prepare a comfortable environment before sleeping or giving birth

One theory is that the behavior of kneading began with wild cats building places with grass and leaves for nesting, giving birth, and resting after a day of hunting.

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

Regarding marking territory, cats have scent glands in their paws. Kneading releases a cat’s scent to mark a particular territory.

Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

Remember, a cat’s favorite place is your lap. Therefore, you are very likely to experience cat 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 reason is to mark territory. Some cats are quite territorial of their owners. If that sounds like your cat, its kneading will release its scent onto you. You are now your 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. Just like how we fluff up our pillows and blankets before sleeping, cats do the same by kneading.

Some cats knead on their owners to reminisce on their glory days as a kitten. Your lap is just as warm as their mother’s belly was. Therefore, your adult cat could be kneading on you to simply relive experiences of its happy kittenhood.

When your cat begins to knead, whether in your lap or on another soft surface, you can gently guide your cat into a position where it is lying on its side. In this position, your cat can relax and even fall asleep.

Overall, a cat kneading its owner is a sign of affection and flattery. The cat is basically saying that it really loves you and enjoys your company.

If all of this love and affection hurts because of your cat’s claws, try to trim its nails before the next kneading session on your lap.

Alternatively, you can place a thick blanket or towel on your lap before your cat jumps on their favorite lap to sleep on. This way, your cat can show you affection without causing you discomfort or ripping up your clothes.

Kneading can become bothersome or even a hassle if your cat wants to knead on you all the time.

If your cat loves kneading just a bit too much, try to gently pick up your cat and place it on another surface, such as the sofa. You can also distract your cat with a toy when you notice that it wants to start kneading and purring. Your cat will happily go after the toy and forget all about its kneading activities.

Do not ever punish your cat for kneading. Kneading is instinctive for cats and brings them lots of enjoyment. Unless the kneading behavior is truly bothersome, let your cat knead in peace and enjoy it.

23 thoughts on “Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

    1. AvatarCharles

      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
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  2. AvatarShiralee 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. AvatarCindy

      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
  3. AvatarJo 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
  4. AvatarMads

    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. Avatarjean 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
  5. AvatarPaul 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
  6. AvatarAckie 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. AvatarHope

      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. AvatarMarina 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. AvatarBeach 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
  8. AvatarCarolyn

    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. AvatarEllen 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. AvatarHeidi 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. AvatarLisa 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
  11. AvatarTonnie 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. AvatarEvalyn 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. AvatarGGof9

    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. AvatarMystic

      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

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