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Why Do Cats Knead: Everything You Need to Know

5 min read

Cat kneading, also known as “cats making biscuits,” is an adorable behavior usually seen when they're having a good fuss! You may find yourself scratching your head trying to discover the meaning behind their kneading. 

Cat kneading is a common cat behavior, often displayed as the rhythmic pushing of their paws in and out at alternating times. Cats that do this often look like they’re kneading dough which is where the term making biscuits comes from. Cats love to do this on soft surfaces like cozy blankets, squishy cushions, or most commonly your lap when they’re having a good fuss! 

If you have a cat that does this, you may be wondering why do cats knead? 


What is cat kneading?

Not all cats knead the same way. Some will purr loudly while others may do it quietly. Some may do it with just their front paws while others will use all four. On top of the classic kneading motion, it’s common for cats to appear as if they were in a trance state. This just means that they’re completely relaxed. 

Why do cats knead?

There are actually many reasons why cats knead, but the main one is that it’s an instinctive trait they inherited from kitten-hood. When kittens feed from their mother, they will paw at their mothers’ tummies to encourage milk flow from their teats. This is why sometimes cats may dribble or suckle at a soft object such as a blanket or cushion while kneading. 

While it may seem unusual that cat kneading is still present as they get older, it’s actually a huge compliment for you. When they do this, it means that they feel happy, safe and comfortable with you, much like how they felt with their mother! 


Making a nest 

There’s another theory which posits that your cat has picked up this behavior from decades of evolution. Wild cats will paw at piles of leaves or tall grass to create a nest for themselves and their young to relax and sleep in. By doing this to the ground they’re not only creating a soft nest – similarly to how we fluff pillows – but they’re also checking for predators, prey or dangerous things hidden in the foliage. So, when your domestic cat does this to your lap it may be an ingrained habit from their wild ancestry! 


Marking territory

A possible answer to why do cats knead is that they’re trying to mark their territory. By pushing their paws in and out, they activate their scent glands that release pheromones in their paws. They could be doing this on your lap to mark you as their own and warning other cats to back off. 


Going into heat

Female cats may also knead when they go into heat (also known as oestrus). They do this to show male cats that they’re ready to mate. They may exhibit other behaviors such as being overly vocal, displaying more affection than usual and begging to go outside. 

Neutering or spaying may decrease these behaviors if they are related to oestrus.  


What to do if your cat kneading you hurts 

Some cats might knead with their claws out which can sometimes feel as though they’re using your lap as a pin cushion!

It’s important that you never punish them for doing it as it’s an instinctive behaviour and they’re only returning the affection they feel from you, but there are a few things you can try to decrease the risk of scratches to your body.

If your cat is sinking their claws in a little too much, try putting a soft barrier between you both like a cushion or a blanket. You can also encourage your cat to lie down and relax by stroking them and gently pushing them down onto your lap. Alternatively, distract your cat with a fun toy and they’ll soon stop sinking their claws into your lap. 

Hopefully that’s answered that burning question, why do cats knead, and now you understand that you should take it as the ultimate compliment your cat could give you.