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Why Do Cats Knead?

Kneading is a common, natural behavior that baffles and amuses any cat lover and avid watcher of internet cat videos. We find it adorable when kittens and adult cats “make biscuits” and let out the most content of purrs. 

But is there more to your kitty making biscuits? What is considered normal cat kneading? Is there such a thing as “too much kneading”?

Let’s learn more about why kittens and adult cats do this adorably curious behavior. 

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What Is Cat Kneading?

Your cat kneads when they push their paws down on a surface, something soft like a blanket, pillow, another cat, or your lap. There’s a rhythm to it, as the left and right paws take turns in applying that downward pressure on the surface without missing a beat. Sometimes, they will extend their claws.

This motion is similar to kneading bread dough—which is why we call it “making biscuits.” According to the American Animal Hospital Association, kneading is relaxing or soothing to cats. Many cats purr, drift off to sleep, drool, or simply zone out when they knead.

Why Do Cats Knead?  

There are many theories explaining this normal behavior of cats kneading. Here are some of the most popular ones on why cats knead:

To Stimulate Milk Production

Your cat kneading is widely believed to be an instinctive trait, among other natural behaviors they inherited from their wild ancestors. To knead came naturally to them when they were young. 

Kittens knead their mother’s mammary glands on her belly to stimulate milk production. This action may also release oxytocin, a hormone that strengthens the bond between a mother and her babies.

Even when they’ve been completely weaned, most cats may not outgrow the habit of kneading and take this habit into adulthood. Your kitty will always associate kneading with comfort, even if they’re no longer rewarded with food when they do.

To Mark Their Territory 

Cats are territorial creatures, and one way they stake their claim on their belongings is through kneading. By kneading their paws on anything, they’re activating the scent glands on their paws to mark their territory. 

This scent-marking is not only a declaration of “this is mine” (and yes, that includes you!) but also a method of communication among felines. It helps them set boundaries and identify other cats in their household.

To Create a Cozy Spot for Resting 

Your cat’s wild ancestors built nests or places where they and their kittens could sleep. They pawed the grass to make it comfortable and to check for hidden dangers or predators. 

When cats knead blankets or your lap, it’s likely a deep-rooted habit signaling they’re preparing to rest. They just have to be sure that their bed is comfortable by kneading it with their paws. Kneading itself can help them enter into a more relaxed mood, thus allowing them to sleep peacefully.

To Stretch   

Just like we humans might stretch before and after a nap, cats knead to stretch their muscles. Not only do they love a good stretch before tackling their cat trees or scratch posts, but kneading also lets them flex those muscles (and show off their claws). It’s also possible for them to knead their paws to prepare for a walk or another nap.

To Attract a Mate

Some unspayed female cats knead when they are in heat. They would lie down, purr, and knead the air to let male cats know they’re ready to mate.

Cats in heat might also meow loudly, rub their head against something (your leg, perhaps), pace back and forth, and raise their pelvis with their tail on one side.  

Some cats may feel discomfort during their estrous cycle. Try to be there for her and keep her calm amid the restlessness, making sure she’s comfortable and relaxed. Keep her indoors, and spay her as soon as possible to avoid an unwanted litter of kittens. 

To Show Affection 

Cats might have a reputation for being aloof, but when they wander over and knead you, it’s their way of saying they feel the same warmth and care from you as they did from their moms. Think of cat kneading as one of their many gestures of affection. Watch them bake up a storm when you place them on your lap and pet them!

Your cat kneading your lap might also be their way of saying, “Hey, pay a little attention to me!” They could be hinting at wanting playtime or a scratch behind their ears. Some might even let you rub their bellies. And as you shower them with attention, they’ll knead right back, turning it into a sweet little cycle of love and care.

To Soothe Their Anxiety

A stressed cat may knead as a way to soothe anxiety. They find kneading comforting and can help them manage stress and self-soothe. When cats knead, they are often tapping into a deep-rooted instinct that provides them with a sense of security and well-being. If you notice your cat kneading more than usual accompanied with other signs of anxiety, seek help from your veterinarian to find its cause.

Why Do Cats Purr While Kneading?

Whenever your feline kneads you and you hear that familiar purr, it’s another little sign of contentment. As kittens, purring was a way they let their mothers know that they were okay and happy.  

So the next time your cat kneads you and purrs, it can be that they are content and happy to be with you. Just be aware of the other meanings of purring

What Does It Mean When a Cat Kneads a Blanket?

You may find your kitty kneading on blankets, pillows, stuffed toys, or other soft objects in your home. Your kitty’s kneading behavior is a source of comfort to them, like the time they were a kitten and being nursed by their mother. 

That soft blanket also makes for a nice bed, and with their instinctive trait, they’ll likely knead it first before lying on it. And yes, the blanket is now marked theirs.  

Do All Cats Knead?

Though it’s a common behavior for felines, not all cats knead. Some knead when they’re given affection, like pets, or some just do it for no clear reason. Some felines make biscuits with their claws out, while others use all four paws. 

Should You Let Your Cat Knead You?

Yes, letting your cat knead you strengthens your bond. It’s their way of showing affection back at you. Cats associate making biscuits with nursing and its comfort, and it also shows they trust the person—that’s you—enough to approach and knead them. 

If you’re ticklish or worried about them scratching your legs, which happens when they let out their claws, consider these ways to let your cat knead you:

  • Put a thick but soft blanket over your lap. 
  • Trim your cat’s claws. This is also one way to keep them from damaging furniture or any object with their sharp claws. 
  • The happier your cat is, the more they’ll dig in! If your cat’s kneading starts to cause pain, find toys or treats to distract them. 

Remember, never punish your feline for something that’s instinct to them and a way to return your affection. Your kitty doesn’t know that they’re hurting you.

If you find your cat kneading more frequently or more intensely than usual, it could be a reaction to environmental changes or underlying medical concerns. It’s best to consult with your veterinarian to address any unusual behaviors.  

The Tail End

No matter the answer to the question “why do cats knead?” it’s clear that making biscuits is a source of comfort to them. So soak in all that attention from your kitty, because it’s one of the biggest compliments they can give you!

Kristen Levine is a nationally acclaimed pet expert, influencer, and Fear Free Certified® Professional with over 30 years of experience working with pets.

Through this blog and her book, Pampered Pets on a Budget, Kristen has helped millions of pet parents solve problems and provide the best care for their dogs and cats.

Working alongside hundreds of pet professionals, including veterinarians, behaviorists and trainers inspired Kristen to become a pet parenting “guide”, providing readers with reliable information about health, wellness and lifestyle for dogs and cats and the people who love them.

A dogged advocate for pet adoption and rescue, Kristen has featured over 1,000 adoptable dogs and cats from the SPCA on live television and radio appearances to get them adopted. Her blog, KristenLevine.com has been featured in over 100 media outlets – including the New York Times, USA Today, FOX & Friends, Good Morning America, Women's Day, Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping, Pop Sugar and more.

To stay up to date on the latest health and lifestyle trends for pets, Kristen regularly attends the top veterinary and pet product conferences, where she’s often a featured speaker.

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