It’s one of the cutest cat behaviors. You are relaxing watching your TV, with your precious kitty in your lap. Suddenly, she starts kneading you with her paws. It can feel like a massage, or like you have a budding baker, kneading bread dough. 

It’s been so popularized on the internet, its often called making biscuits. If you need something to brighten your day, just search #catsmakingbiscuits. 

You may know cats knead when they are happy, but there are other reasons as well. 

Why does my cat knead?

Cats knead for many reasons. These range from happiness and contentment to anxiety. Before we get into why your cat kneads, it’s important to understand what kneading is. 

How do Cats Knead?

When your cat kneads, they will push their paws towards and away from what they are kneading in a rhythmic motion. Some cats will use all four paws, while others only use their front feet. 

Some cats will retract their claws when kneading, while others leave them out. This can become uncomfortable when they are kneading you. Some cats tend to dig in with their claws when kneading. 

Kitten Behavior

One theory behind why cats knead is that it’s a holdover from kittenhood. When a kitten nurses, they will knead their mothers teet to stimulate milk production. 

It’s theorized that domestication and spaying and neutering cats has led them to retain juvenile behaviors. It’s not clear if this is the reason cats keep some of their behaviors from childhood, but it is clear that they hold onto certain behaviors. 

Positive Association

Cats have a strong associative memory. This means they don’t remember specific things that happen, but they remember how they felt at the time. When a kitten is nursing, they feel happy and content. As adults, they will find kneading comforting, because of this positive association. 

Stretching

Have you ever woken up and stretched? It probably felt nice to stretch your muscles and get your blood flowing. When your cat kneads, they are also stretching their muscles. If they are settling in to relax or just getting up from a nap, this might be why they are kneading. 

Marking

Just like dogs, cats mark their territory. They use urine to mark their territory, but they also have other methods. They have scent glands in their paws and on each side of their head. When they knead, they are applying their scent to the object they are kneading. 

Cats are territorial animals. Each cat has its own territory. They may also have outer territory that is shared with other cats, typically for hunting or social purposes. Your cat will mark their territory, and anything else they consider theirs, with their scent. 

If you’ve ever noticed your cat rubbing their head against your leg, this is likely the reason why. They are marking you, so the world knows you belong to them. They will knead you, and other beloved possessions, for the same reason. 

Signaling Mates

Female cats will knead when they are about to go into heat. You can think of this is a cat’s pre-mating dance. If they are about to enter their heat, they will purr, stretch, and knead the air. 

If they are ready to mate, they take a different posture. They will raise their pelvis with their tail to one side, which is an open invitation to mate. 

Contentment

Cats sometimes knead to show they are happy and content, similar to purring. If your cat is kneading you, it may be their way of telling you they are happy to be with you. If your cat seems content and relaxed, this is probably why they are kneading. If your cat is laying on their favorite blanket and kneading, they are probably just happy and comfortable. 

Stress or Anxiety

Cats can become stressed or anxious, just like humans can. If your cat seems nervous, they may be kneading to calm themselves. Kneading is a pleasurable experience for a cat. It helps them to relax. 

When stressed, kneading can be used as a self comfort mechanism. Purring can also be used to help your cat relax. 

Signs your cat is stressed include excessive grooming, a tense body, avoiding people, and pacing. They may also meow, hiss, or growl. Some cats will become distant when stressed, while others become very clingy. 

Bedding Down 

Many animals will use their body to create a soft sleeping place in the wild. Dogs, and even deer, will turn in circles to tamp down grass. They then have a comfortable sleeping area. Domestic dogs will often paw at a blanket, and even adjust it with their nose to create the perfect bed. 

It’s thought that cats will knead for the same reason. Cats in the wild will knead the grass to mash it down into a comfortable sleeping area. Domesticated cats have likely retained this instinct. 

This may be why cats sometimes knead right before going to bed. 

Should I stop my cat from kneading?

Kneading is a normal cat behavior. However, sometimes there are reasons to stop your cat from kneading.

Kneading is Normal and Necessary

If your cat is kneading you, you should be flattered. It’s likely a sign they love you, or at least enjoy your company. Your cat may also knead blankets, pillows, and other objects because they are happy and relaxed. 

Kneading is also necessary to stretch your cat’s paw and leg muscles. These muscles are essential to your cat’s well being, and kneading helps keep them supple and strong. 

Kneading is important for psychological reasons as well. It feels good to your cat, and helps them feel calm. 

Cats Need to Knead

Because kneading is an instinctual behavior, it’s unhealthy to stop them from kneading completely. You can stop them from kneading things you don’t want them to, including you, however. This is a behavior that needs to be managed or redirected, but never stopped altogether.

When to Stop Kneading 

If they are kneading with their claws, this can be painful for you. It can also be destructive for your belongings if they are kneading them. 

Your cat may also knead you at inconvenient times. Perhaps you can’t relax in the evening, because your cat is constantly kneading you. Perhaps they wake you up when you are sleeping due to the behavior. 

Some cats can become obsessed with kneading, particularly if they are experiencing stress. This isn’t good for you or your cat. In these cases, you’ll want to change your cat’s kneading behavior. 

Do All Cats Knead?

All kittens knead. However, not all adult cats do. Some owners worry because their cats don’t knead. Does it mean they aren’t happy? 

The good news is, kneading is unique to each cat. The exact style of kneading will vary. How often they knead as well. Some cats are naturally more inclined to kneading than others. 

Some knead frequently, while others knead rarely, if at all. As long as your cat isn’t kneading obsessively, there’s no right or wrong frequency. If your cat doesn’t knead, there’s no need to worry. 

How to stop a cat from kneading?

Technically, the goal shouldn’t be to stop your cat from kneading. Instead, you’ll want to redirect the kneading to the appropriate times and areas. If there’s an issue causing your cat to knead too often, handling that issue should be your best course of action. 

Give Them Something to Knead

 Most cats enjoy kneading soft things, like blankets, pillows, and your leg. You can redirect them by giving them something you are comfortable with them kneading. A fleece blanket is a great option, but anything soft and cuddly should work. 

When your cat begins to knead something you don’t want them to, simply place their kneading object in front of them. When they knead it, offer praise and a treat. Once they get used to kneading the item, you can slow down on the treats and praise. Begin by praising and giving them treats every other time they knead the object, and then reduce the frequency until you stop the rewards.

You can also add an attractive scent to the kneading object you’ve chosen. Catnip is one option. Most cats enjoy the smell, and love to play with catnip toys.

Cat pheremone sprays are also an option. Cats release certain pheromones when they are happy and content. When they smell them, it has a relaxing effect that they are attracted to. 

Some owners find it helpful to place a treat underneath a kneading blanket. The smell will attract your cat. Then, they may start kneading out of comfort and curiosity. 

The last option is to use your own scent. Simply sleep with the object. This will cover it with your smell, which your cat is bound to enjoy. 

Managing Kneading

If the issue is your kitty’s claws, this is a fairly simple fix. Many owners find trimming their kitty’s claws to be helpful. If your cat loves to sink their claws into you while kneading, trimming their claws may solve the problem. 

If trimming isn’t enough, you can try nail caps. These are soft caps that go over your cat’s nails. They are attached with nail adhesive, and last for 6-8 weeks. The process of applying them is  a bit time-consuming.

You’ll need to trim your cat’s nails. Then apply the nail caps.  After 6-8 weeks, clip off the caps, and repeat the process. This keeps your cat’s nails healthy and at a comfortable length, and prevents sharp claws from damaging you or your possessions. 

If your cat hurts you when kneading, you should let them know. Cry out in a high pitched voice, similar to a kitten. Your cat will understand that they hurt you, and hopefully stop kneading so enthusiastically. 

Problematic Kneading 

If kneading has become an obsession for your cat, you’ll need to determine the reason for the behavior. Are they stressed? Has there been a recent change in the household? Perhaps someone has moved in or out, or your schedule has changed. Even a noisy neighbor can disturb a sensitive cat. 

It’s also positive that your cat is bored. Cats need mental and physical stimulation. If they get bored, they are bound to do things you don’t like. This is similar to a small child left to their own devices too long. 

Puzzle feeders can help with boredom. Your cat may also enjoy watching TV. Researchers have found that cats can be quite entertained by television. This is particularly true if the show includes prey animals or other cats. 

Say No to Declawing

Many owners mistakenly think that declawing is a simple and harmless procedure. However, it does more than remove painful claws. It also removes the last bone in each toe. 

Just as it would for you, it disrupts your cat’s ability to walk. It can cause pain when your cat walks, and it affects their ability to climb and balance. 

It also affects their ability to defend themselves. Cats who are declawed are more likely to be aggressive, and to bite. They don’t feel safe without their main source of defense. 

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.