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Why Do Cats Knead

Grey and white cat kneading a soft bed

Most of us cat companions have noticed our furry friends kneading, or pushing their paws in an alternating rhythmic motion pattern against something soft, such as a pillow, blanket or, sometimes you!

Cats kneading reminds many people of kneading dough, which is why it’s affectionately known as “making biscuits.” But cats don’t bake. So, what exactly are they doing when they knead and why? 

 

Cats Start to Knead as Kittens

 

Two kittens to show when cats start to knead

 

Not all cats knead, but many, young and old, do. Live Science and others believe that kneading is a behavior that is leftover from when our cats were kittens. While nursing, the kitten will knead the area around the teat to help stimulate the mother’s milk production. They’re born with an instinct to knead, and they’ll do it even while they’re still blind.

All right, yummy food is a pretty good reason to do many things, but why do cats continue to knead when they grow up?

 

Kneading Helps Cats Show and Create Comfort

Because nursing brings more than just food. It brings comfort and the feeling of safety and happiness. And our furry friends associate kneading with all these feelings. So when they’re happy and relaxed, they will knead against a soft surface. They might even drool a little and suckle on the blanket, pillow, or your clothes, even though they’re not getting any milk that way. Cats will also sometimes knead if they are feeling stressed as a way to create a comfortable environment.

That still leaves the eternal question "Why do cats knead on me?" Some experts, such as the American Animal Hospital Association, believe cats knead on their owners not only when they are contented but also to indicate to you that they are feeling that way. You might notice that your cat will begin to knead as you start to pet them or when your cat is snuggling with you. It is believed this not only makes them comfortable but is way to show you love and affection and indicate their state of wellbeing.

But they’re still feeling safe and happy, and they’re not ashamed to show it.

 

Kneading Helps Cats Mark Territory and Objects

Gray and black cat laying on blanket after kneading to mark territory

Did you know that cats have scent glands in the pads of their cute, fluffy little paws? And that they have a habit of marking their territory with their scent?

When they knead with their paws on a soft, comfy surface, they’re also marking it as theirs. According to How Stuff Works, your little furry friend has likely marked you and just about every soft object in their territory they can get their paws on. Your cat wants the whole world, especially other felines, to know what’s hers, and she will mark her territory as often as needed. Plus, she’s returning the affection you’re showing her.

Be proud to carry the scent of her feline majesty...and be happy your cat didn’t choose other methods to mark you as theirs. The ones that would leave you wet and smelly.

All right, yes, you’re proud, but what if your cat doesn’t retract the claws when kneading, not even while in your lap? You don’t want to seem ungrateful, but that kind of hurts. Don’t worry, though; that can be easily solved by trimming your cat’s claws (not declawing!), getting nail guards, putting a soft towel or a blanket over your lap and under your cat, or by wearing more sturdy clothes (cats love them, and will love you for wearing them).

 

Cats Knead to Create a Nest

Cute light colored kitten in a blanket made by kneading

Another reason for a cat to knead before  they lay down is a leftover behavior from their wilder days. According to Purina, cats in the wild will sometimes use the kneading pattern to form a nest in leaves or other loose items in which they can rest or nap. The movement often helps to soften the material they are using for the nest as well as tamp down the ground they plan to sleep on. They’ll be more comfortable that way and their scent will signal everyone that the nest is theirs.

Our little orange tabby cat Jupiter, for example, has a soft, knotty, years-old blanket that he sees has his and will begint o knead the blanket as soon as he jumps up into our laps.

While making the nest, the cat is also checking for possible predators and dangers. Pregnant cats are also nesting animals and really begin to seek safe places near the end of their pregnancies. Cats instinctually know that nests are a safe place to both give birth and a safe area to bring food back to as they raise their kittens.

 

Kneading Helps Cats Stretch

Similar to scratching, kneading also helps cats stretch their lmuscles, particularly their shoulders, backs, toes and legs. The act of kneading helps build upper body stregnth. And if there’s a sore muscle after a long nap (you get them, too, especially if you sleep in the wrong position!), kneading can help. Warming and loosening up a cat’s muscle after a nap is important because it readies their bodies to spring into action if necessary, which helps avoid injury.

 

Kneading Can Precede Going into Heat
Orange tabby cat after kneading before going into heat

There’s yet another possible reason for kneading. As Animal Planet notes, female cats that have not been spayed will often knead prior to going into heat. If your beloved feline is stretching, purring, and kneading the air not while in your lap, but while lying on her side, it could be a signal to the males nearby that they’re allowed to approach and maybe mate.

We want to note spaying a cat is important to avoid unwanted kittens who could become homeless, as well as to prevent some diseases.

You want your cat to keep happily kneading for many years to come, after all.