Why Do Cats Knead?


Cats make excellent pets, and are favorites of many. They are fastidious in self-grooming habits and take to the litter box with little training. They are playful and quite entertaining with their antics. Cats are also mysterious and fascinating.

One of the most curious behaviors cats indulge in is kneading or “making biscuits” as some people like to say. It is the process of the cat pushing its paws in and out against a soft surface. Most cat parents are not aware of just exactly why this kneading behavior exists in cats. Cats seem very content when engaging in kneading, purring and sometimes even drooling. It seems to be quite a relaxing activity for them. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why cats knead. Several theories exist. Here are a few if them.

Kneading for Nourishment
One widely held theory has the reason for kneading as generating nourishment. The kittens knead against the mother cat’s belly as they are suckling to send a message that keeps the milk flowing. Kneading in adult cats may be a holdover behavior from infancy. However, the belief that kittens weaned from the mother too early as the cause of kneading has been dispelled. It has been found that all cats knead into adulthood no matter what age they were when weaned.

Making a Soft Bed
Another theory explains kneading as an instinct that cats inherited from their feline ancestors in the wild. It is similar to the belief that dogs turn around in circles prior to lying down as their wolf ancestors did to flatten out the grass in the area where they prepared to rest. Instead of turning in circles, the big feline ancestors kneaded the grass flat with their paws.

Kneading to Mark Territory
Cats may engage in kneading behavior to mark their territory. This theory is based on the fact that cats have scent glands located on their paws. As the cat kneads, its scent inevitably rubs off on the surface that its paws are working. According to VetStreet.com, “Animal behaviorists speculate that an adult cat kneads to show contentment, to calm herself when she’s feeling anxious or to mark a person or object with her scent from the sweat glands in her paws.” So be it the bedspread or an article of your clothing, the cat may be passing on the message that it has been there.

Kneading to Show Contentment
Virginia Wells of PetPlace.com explains that “A kneady cat is a happy cat.” Whatever the precise reason, everyone agrees that kneading is something that cats enjoy doing. While we may not understand the reason for kneading, it may just be as simple as the fact that cats find it pleasurable. It could be a way of helping the cat alleviate stress.

Dealing with Kneading Behavior
Cat and other pet owners often think of themselves as the pets mother. However, according to English biologist Dr. John Bradshaw, cats view their owners as more of a “larger, non-hostile” cat. Unlike dogs, cats have never been bred to do anything except look nice. Their interactions with humans are based more on instinct than learned behaviors.

Your cat’s kneading and rubbing up against you is its way of treating you as another cat. Kneading on uncovered human flesh can be painful, but it is important not to punish your cat for kneading. Keeping your cat’s claws trimmed can help take the discomfort out of this comforting cat behavior for you. You can also try training the cat to move somewhere else, such as a blanket or pillow once she starts kneading. Another option is to only allow the cat on your lap once you are covered with a blanket.

Enjoy your cat’s instinct to “make biscuits” and you will both be comforted.