What is Cat Kneading and Why Do They Do It?

Kneading, or pawing, is a common and instinctive trait in cats. Cat kneading is best described as cats rhythmically pushing their paws in and out against a soft object, such as a blanket, a pillow, or even their owner’s lap. Some cats will retract their claws while kneading, but not all cats knead in the same way.

Not all cats knead, but it is a common behavior in young and adult cats. Some people even refer to this behavior as cats making biscuits because it resembles a baker kneading dough. Sometimes cats will knead and purr while you are petting them, and other times it may seem like they are kneading for no real reason. There is no clear reason why cats knead, but there are several ideas and theories. However, one thing is certain: kneading (or pawing) is a natural, instinctual, and common behavior in cats.

cat kneading

Why Do Cats Knead?

There are a variety of reasons why cats knead. Listed below are the main ones:

While Nursing as Kittens

When kittens are young and still nursing, you may see them knead on their mom while they are nursing. A kitten will knead the area around its mother’s teat to promote the flow of milk. One theory as to why cats knead is that it’s a behavior that they carry with them into adulthood. As an adult cat, kneading may bring a sense of comfort the cat had while nursing and being around its mother as a kitten.

Convey Comfort

When cats are happy, they may knead on you or other objects to show pleasure and contentment. You will often find a cat kneading when they are being petted, or when they are snuggling up into a comfortable napping spot. When your cat is kneading on your lap, they may be trying to show you love and let you know they are content and happy.

When a cat kneads on their owner, it can be painful if their claws are digging into your leg or your stomach. The better a cat feels, the harder he or she is likely to knead. Never discipline a cat for this behavior because they are not trying to hurt you. They are trying to show you how happy they are! To prevent the pain that may come along with your cat kneading on you, cover up with a blanket or a pillow. You can also keep your cat’s claws trimmed to prevent sharp claws from digging into you.

Develop a Resting Place

In the same way you may see a dog spin in circles before laying down and getting comfortable, you may see a cat kneading to create a soft sleeping place before they lay down and get comfortable. Cat’s wild feline ancestors would knead tall grass to create a resting place, and this behavior may be part of a cat’s natural instinct.

Kneading can be a cat’s way of “making their bed” before they lay down. Just like humans, cats want to make their resting place as comfortable and cozy as possible before taking a nap.

Mark Their Territory

Cats are very territorial and often rely on scent markers to claim territory and leave messages for other cats. Cats have scent glands in their paws and when they scratch and knead, they leave behind their scent to let other animals know they were there. This is also how they claim certain items as theirs.

Stretch Their Muscles

Cats love to sleep and take naps. All of that sleeping can make a cat’s muscles stiff! When they wake up, you may see them kneading as a way to stretch out their muscles. This can be their way of keeping themselves limber until it’s time for the next nap.

Possible Mates

When female cats knead, it can also be for mating reasons. You may see a female cat who is going into heat purring, stretching, and kneading the air while laying on their side to tell male cats that it is okay to approach for possible mating.

When female cats are in heat, they will meow until those meows turn into loud, persistent yowls that are an effort to get the attention of a male cat. The only way to prevent this behavior is to have your female cat spayed.

What to Do About Cat Kneading

Since kneading (or pawing) is a natural cat behavior, you shouldn’t feel the need to do anything about it unless they are clawing up your furniture or snagging your clothing. One way to prevent this is to keep your cat’s claws trimmed. You can also keep a folded towel or blanket next to your favorite chair that you can use to protect your lap as your cat kneads you.

If your cat’s kneading behaviors are uncomfortable or truly bother you, try gently pulling them into a lying down position so they may settle down and go to sleep. You can also try to distract them with a treat or a toy, but it’s never appropriate to punish your cat for this natural behavior. It simply means they are happy and content. They are not trying to hurt or upset you.

Contact Warrick Veterinary Clinic if You Have Any Additional Questions About Cat Kneading 

Kneading is a relaxing and soothing thing for cats to do. You may even notice your cat appears to be zoned out while he or she is kneading. Sometimes cats will drift off to sleep while enjoying the motion of kneading. While kneading may seem strange to us as humans, it is a completely normal activity for cats.

We don’t have to understand everything about it, but we do know enough to know that when a cat is kneading or pawing, it means he or she is happy and content. If you have additional questions about cat kneading, contact Warrick Veterinary Clinic by calling (812) 897-4855.