By Dr. Becker
It's really remarkable to watch – especially if it's your first time experiencing it.
It's another of the many unique and fascinating things about cats.
Your kitty jumps into your chair with you, or perhaps onto the bed next to you, and begins pressing one front paw, then the other against you in a rhythmic motion.
His eyes are either closed or hold a far away look.
Often there's purring.
Sometimes there's drooling.
It can go on and on and on.
Some kitties knead with their claws pulled in.
Others extend their claws as they push, and retract them during the pulling motion.
Sometimes it's not a person they're kneading but a soft surface like a pillow or blanket, or even another kitty.
To humans it looks like the cat is lovingly kneading dough to make bread.
The kitty, on the other hand, appears to be moving closer to ecstasy with each press of a paw.
What the heck is he doing?
Why Your Cat "Makes Biscuits"
This kneading, also known as 'making bread' or 'making biscuits,' is an instinctive feline behavior kittens display shortly after they're born. The reason for the movement in kittenhood is to stimulate the flow of milk from the mother's mammary glands.
Cats that continue the behavior into adulthood with their owners might be:
- Showing contentment
- Calming themselves during periods of stress
- Marking their human with the scent from the sweat glands in their paws
One theory is adult cats who still knead were taken from their mothers too soon. This idea has been pretty well debunked because nearly every cat kneads. More than likely it's an instinctive lifelong behavior that is simply comforting to felines. However, kitties weaned too early may become the cats that go on to "over-knead."
The behavior might also have its origins in wild cats who built nesting places with grass and leaves in which to rest or give birth. It does seem the behavior in most cats precedes settling down for a nap.
Some intact female cats will knead more frequently as they're going into heat.
For some cats, kneading can be come an obsessive behavior. These kitties may also try to suckle on their person's skin, stuffed toys, blankets, clothing – even the family dog.
If You Need to Curtail the Behavior...
If your cat's kneading is uncomfortable due to claws, or seems to be obsessive, there are a few things you can try.
When she starts the motion, try gently pulling her down into a lying position. This may settle her down and she'll drift off to sleep. You can also try gently covering her paws with slight pressure from your hands, making the motion more difficult to perform, or distracting her with a food treat or toy.
What you don't want to do is punish your kitty for a behavior that is entirely natural.