Why Do Cats Knead?

Why Do Cats Knead?

by ScritchSpot

Kneading or “making biscuits,” as cat lovers commonly say, is a known cat behavior that resembles the motion of kneading bread dough. It can be described as the rhythmic alternating of their front paws pushing and pulling on what is usually a soft surface, such as bedding, another cat, or even your lap. Some cats knead and purr contentedly in response to being petted. 

But why do cats knead?

Your cat’s reason for kneading may vary, but here are a few different hypotheses why cats knead.

  • Kittenhood comfort - Nursing kittens instinctively knead their mothers to stimulate milk production. Cats might continue to knead soft surfaces (or a feline friend) well past kittenhood because the motion of kneading is associated with the comforting feeling of being safe and warm while nursing.
  • Kitty the yogi - Cats are nimble creatures that love to work out all the kinks after sleeping, the same way a big stretch feels good right after you wake up. They may knead while stretching after a nap to stay limber.
  • Creating a cozy resting place - Before domestication, cats in the wild would knead foliage to pat it down and create a soft, comfortable place to nap or give birth. Kneading may be a leftover instinctive behavior your cat uses to make sure her bed is comfy before settling down. For this reason, your cat may also knead your lap. You may find it painful when your cat kneads you with sharp claws, but experts agree it isn’t appropriate to punish cats for these natural behaviors. If your kitty does this, it’s best to keep her nails trimmed to prevent getting scratched or snags on your clothing. You can also keep a folded towel nearby to protect your lap. 
  • Staking her claim - Your cat might be kneading the furniture to mark her territory with her scent. Cat paw pads contain scent glands that they use to claim their space, so by kneading, she’s saying, “this pillow is mine!”
  • It’s getting hot in here - Females in heat will sometimes knead as they get into position to signal their willingness to mate. The natural behaviors associated with seeking a mate are difficult to discourage and can only really be prevented by spaying your cat. 

In many cases, kneading is associated with comfort. So, the next time you notice your cat’s behavior, just enjoy the “bread making” all the while knowing that your cat is relaxed and content. 

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