Exploring Curious Cat Behavior: Why Do Cats Knead?
These funny and sometimes mischievous animals can be pretty mysterious, often leaving owners wondering why they do what they do. Today, we’re going to try to understand just why cats knead.
What exactly is kneading?
If you’re a seasoned cat owner, you’re likely familiar with this common cat behavior, but if you’ve just brought a new feline friend home for the first time, you might wonder what they’re doing with their paws.
Kneading is precisely what it sounds like — picture a human kneading bread, and that’s about what you can envision your cat doing to…well, just about anything — from pillows and blankets to other furry friends at home and even you! It’s why this behavior can sometimes jokingly be called “making biscuits” because that’s just what it looks like!
They press their paws rhythmically into objects (generally something soft and/or plushy), and while not all cats do this, most cats do, and it often leaves owners wondering why. So, let’s dive into it!
Where did cats learn this behavior?
Believe it or not, cats are born innately knowing how to knead because it is something they do when they nurse!
Kittens discover that kneading — a.k.a softly pushing their paws — on their mother’s stomach when suckling helps to get them milk. Over time, the expectation of milk after kneading will wane. When you first bring a kitten home, however, you might see them kneading and trying to suckle, bite, or lick at other objects (like a pillow) because, at that young age, they may still be expecting a food source at the end of their paws.
Why do cats knead on things?
Cats often continue to knead from kittenhood into adulthood, and the behavior remains for many reasons!
It’s believed that cats associate the act of kneading with the memory of getting milk from their mothers during kittenhood, so, with that in mind, some believe that cats may knead to seek comfort and relaxation. So, it’s no surprise that it is almost always on a soft, plushy surface when they do knead.
Beyond that, cats may knead to mark their territory. Cat’s paws (and dogs, too!) have scent glands, so kneading different objects allows them to transfer their scent onto them. While this isn’t always the reason for cats kneading, if there are other animals in the household, this could be a plausible reason!
Do you notice your cat kneading after mealtime or at times that feel repetitive? It could be part of a routine they’ve created that helps them get settled in and relaxed. Maybe it’s after mealtime when they’re ready to settle in for a nap or before they lay down for bedtime — these are common times you might see your cat kneading to get a bit extra cozy in their space.
Kneading also resembles a cat giving a massage — sometimes that could be the case! No, they’re not massaging your pillows and blankets; they’re massaging their own little muscles. Pouncing around all day — or maybe sleeping in contorted positions — may lead to tired or sore feet and muscles, so there’s a chance that their kneading could be to give themselves a little TLC.
Some female cats may also knead when they are in heat and trying to attract a male mate. According to the Feline Medical Clinic, “Some female cats take to kneading the air while laying on their sides; This is an instinctual mating behavior signaling male cats they are “available.” Further courtship, however, is required before a female acquiesces to formal mating.”
Why do cats knead on their humans?
Do you tend to be your cat’s favorite thing to knead on? Sitting on the couch together, lying in bed, or even if you’re sitting down to put your shoes on — if your cat doesn’t miss an opportunity to knead your legs, chest, belly, etc., it’s actually for a really sweet reason.
It’s said that this is a sign of bonding and that your cat feels comforted by you. Remember that this behavior stems from how kittens connect with their mothers; it’s pretty special that your cat kneads you, too.
Granted, it could also be for other reasons — like you’re wearing an exceptionally plush and cozy sweatshirt, or your cat is marking you as their territory — but let’s focus on the fact that it’s more likely that they’re pressing their paws into you as a sign of affection…and maybe also because they’d like some attention.
Is there a way to stop the behavior — and should you stop them?
While kneading isn’t a bad behavior or one you should go out of your way to stop, there are some reasons why you might want to control it just a bit.
One reason being? Claws. Whether your cat is kneading on you or your favorite cozy blanket, if they’re releasing their claws, it could mean pain for you — and potentially a snag in the clothes you’re wearing — and pain for your favorite blanket for the same reason.
If claws are the problem, make sure you’re keeping them trimmed! Also, it may be best to tuck your beloved blankets away and be mindful of your favorite clothing items to ensure that your cat can enjoy their natural habit without upsetting you. You may even consider getting specific (and particularly soft and comfy) blankets for your cat so you can redirect them to their blanket while you enjoy cozying up on your own.
Another great way to redirect your cat’s attention away from kneading could be with the use of treats. In addition to potentially putting holes in your clothes and blankets, your cat could knead your friend, who just isn’t a cat person. If you’re struggling to get your cat to redirect their attention from your now uncomfortable friend, treats can help — and lucky for you, we’ve got some great flavors cats love including our brand new Air-Dried cat treats! Give them a try; your not-so-cat-obsessed friends will appreciate it, and so will your cat’s tastebuds!
If you feel as though something’s a little off regarding your cat’s kneading habit — I.e., they’re doing it incessantly or becoming somewhat aggressive or obsessive about it — it may be time to talk to your vet to make sure everything is okay.
If your cat isn’t a kneader, this isn’t necessarily a cause for concern either. Remember, cats are still mysterious creatures after all — and no two are quite the same. Of course, you can bring this up to your vet if you’d like, but in general a lack of kneading isn’t a bad thing.