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Why Do Cats Knead?

Cat Kneading

Story at-a-glance -

  • Cats often "knead" their owners, pressing one front paw, then the other against your lap or stomach. They seem to be a million miles away while engaged in this odd behavior.
  • Kneading, or "making biscuits," is an instinctive feline behavior that starts in kittenhood. For most cats it continues into adulthood, except they transfer the target of their kneading from the mother cat to a soft material, another kitty, or very often, their favorite human.
  • If your cat is kneading you, it's probably because he's feeling content, calming himself, or "marking" you with scent from the sweat glands in his paws.
  • Kneading can be related to cat mating, with female cats kneading before going into heat and male cats attacking pet parents if left kneading for longer periods of time than normal.
  • Kneading can become obsessive and even cause male cats to become aggressive. During these situations, consider gentle ways to curtail the behavior if necessary.

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 Do Cats Knead or "Make 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 also be:

  • Showing contentment
  • Calming themselves during periods of stress
  • Marking their human with the scent from the sweat glands in their paws

Kneading is associated to the mating rituals of cats as well. Some intact female cats will knead more frequently as they're going into heat, while male cats usually become aggressive after kneading for a while.

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.

Aside from these possible reasons on why cats knead, people believe that 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."

Telltale Signs You Have to Stop Your Cat From Kneading

For some cats, kneading can become an obsessive behavior. These kitties may also try to suckle on their person's skin, stuffed toys, blankets, clothing and even the family dog.

Although kneading and suckling are adorable habits pet parents love to watch, there are instances that it should be limited or curbed. If you observe the following behaviors, it's best that you should employ techniques to redirect your cat's attention:

  1. If your cat's kneading is starting to become compulsive.1
  2. If the kneading is causing you or another cat harm.
  3. If a male cat starts salivating or becomes aggressive when kneading.2

How to Stop a Cat From Kneading

If your cat's kneading is uncomfortable due to claws or is becoming obsessive, you can try some of these things to sway your cat's kneading:

  1. 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.
  2. Try gently covering her paws with slight pressure from your hands, making the motion more difficult to perform.
  3. Distract her with a food treat or toy.
  4. Pet your male cats differently. Long strokes on the body promote relaxation, which can trigger episodes of aggression especially if he confuses it with copulation.3 Short strokes incite a more playful environment for your cat.

What you don't want to do is punish your kitty for a behavior that is entirely natural.

You can also redirect your cat's kneading to a piece of fabric or a pillow when he or she starts kneading you. This will keep you from getting scratched if your cat digs their claws every time they knead. Consider clipping your cat's claws to avoid scratches, but never consider declawing.