Why Do Cats Knead?

Cats have such distinctive behaviors. From purring like a tiny motor to always wanting to squeeze into boxes, some traits are just difficult to understand.

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Has your cat ever climbed in your lap only to start digging their claws into you, sort of like a painful massage? This is called kneading.

If you’ve never experienced it, a kneading cat looks like it’s making a loaf of bread or giving you a little massage. They alternate paws, pushing into whatever surface they’re on, and extend their claws. Some cats might just open and close their paws, while others completely pick up and put down their paws, claws out and everything.

With four cats, I’ve seen the entire spectrum of kneading. One of my cats doesn’t knead at all, while another loves to knead any time he sits in my lap.

Also known as “making biscuits”, cats knead for a variety of reasons.

Quick Answer…

Cats knead as a way to show they’re happy. This behavior stems from when they were a kitten, and would knead on their mother’s teat to promote milk flow. To a cat, kneading represents the comfort felt when nursing from their mother. If you cat kneads on you, they’re saying they trust you and want your love — and they’re also probably looking for a comfy spot to nap.

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Why Do Cats Knead?

As mentioned above, the main reason cats knead is to bring themselves, and you, the same comfort they felt while nursing as a kitten. Kneading invokes a motherly feeling for them, and they might even suckle your finger or the corner of a blanket while doing so.

Some people say that cats who knead too much might have been deprived of nursing from their mother too early, and are trying to makeup for it. However, this isn’t a proven theory and nearly all adult cats knead whether they were separated from their mother at a young age or not.

Besides wanted motherly-comfort, there are a few other reasons cats knead.

To Mark Their Territory

Cats are notorious for wanting to rub their scent all over you and claim you as their own. This is what’s happening when cats head butt or nudge you — they’re rubbing the scent glands on their face against you so you’ll smell like them.

Cats have these same scent glands on the bottom of their paws. Kneading is just one of the many ways your kitty is marking you as their territory.

To Make a Comfy Bed

It’s pretty common for cats to knead on your own stomach or lap, but some cats also do it on top of blankets, on the ground or on furniture before they lie down. This is because their ancestors kneaded on tall grass and leaves to make a comfortable bedding before going to sleep in the wild.

Kneading on objects before falling asleep is your cat’s way of getting back to their roots. Okay, maybe we won’t give them that much credit — they’re just trying to get comfortable!

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To Show They’re Happy

Kneading is similar to purring in that it’s a cat’s way of showing you how content they are. This is because kneading is comforting for cats, and it’s associated with happiness. In addition to kneading, your cat might also purr or even drool a little. Don’t worry, this is all completely normal. You just have a very happy cat.

In addition to being happy, your cat is saying they love you. Similar to the message they convey while purring, it’s one of the many ways your kitty will show you affection.

To Get Something From You

Another reason they might be kneading and purring on you is because they want something. As adorable as they are, cats can be a little manipulative — they know giving us love usually results in some kind of reward.

Is their food bowl empty? Do they want a treat? Maybe they just want to be pet? Your cat probably won’t stop kneading until you figure out what they want.

Regardless of why your cat is kneading, it can still be painful. Your cat doesn’t understand they’re hurting you, so it’s up to you to take a few steps for your own comfort. Plus, it’s so sweet to have a happy, purring, kneading cat on you it’s hard to want them to stop. Until you feel their claws.

Can I Stop My Cat from Kneading?

There are a few things you could do if your cat is kneading on you too much. These are all just preventative measures — it’s important to know you should never punish your cat for a natural behavior like kneading.

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First, to avoid any pain associated with your cat digging their claws into you, keep their nails cut. You could either take them to a groomer, or clip their nails at home. Just be careful not to cut their nails too much, you could hit the quick, which is where the blood vessels are.

If you’d rather not try to deal with cutting your cat’s nails, you can purchase plastic cat claw covers. These are tiny little caps you glue on your cat’s nails so they don’t scratch up you or your furniture.

Another option is to try moving your cat onto it’s back or side, so he isn’t directly kneading on you.

You could also keep a small towel nearby to put on your lap if your cat tends to jump up onto you and knead on your stomach or lap. I know I always have to keep at least two blankets on me whenever my cat lays down and starts kneading on me.

Regardless of the reasoning, cats that are kneading are cats that are happy. This isn’t to say a cat that doesn’t knead isn’t happy — he will just show his affection in other ways. Not all cats need, which is perfectly fine.

If you do have a cat that kneads, make sure to keep their nails trimmed to avoid getting scratched by claws when they decide to give you their special kitty massage.

Jacquelyn Pica

Jacquelyn Pica is cat mom to Bean Man Jones, a 2-year old adopted stray. She's also a top-notch pet writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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