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.