Why do cats knead? And do they all do it?

Cats have some pretty funny ways of showing their humans affection.

If a human headbutts you, you’ve clearly upset them; if your cat headbutts you, it must be love!

Keep reading to discover why your cat kneads you and where this instinctive behavior comes from.

Why Do Cats Knead?

Making cookies, making bread, making biscuits, milk treading, happy paws, kitty jazz hands; are just some of the terms I found people using to describe the kneading behavior often performed by cats.

I’m sure you know what I mean, but just in case…

a cute cat stretching and kneading her cat bed but why do cats knead?

Kneading is the motion your cat makes with her paws as she kneads them in and out of a soft object, you, or even the air repeatedly. Some cats spread their toes or extend their sharp claws with each motion too.

Nobody knows for sure why cats perform this common behavior, but there are some popular theories.

Let’s take a look at some now…

It’s A Comforting Reminder of Kittenhood

Kittens instinctively knead their mothers to stimulate milk production. But why do they carry this on into adulthood?

Is your adult cat really trying to milk the sofa?

One theory is that cats continue kneading into adulthood as they associate the act with the comfort, security, and warm fuzzy feelings they felt when nursing.

This is probably the most popular explanation for cat kneading behavior.

There is further evidence to indicate it could be correct; some cats try to suckle the object they are kneading. 

To Stake Their Claim

Cats have scent glands in their paws, which they can use to mark their territory. Knowing this, it’s not a significant jump to assume that kneading is one method a cat can use to leave their scent on something.

To Make A Cosy Bed

Long before cats became domesticated, they had to find a cozy spot to sleep in the wild.

These wild cats supposedly pushed down the leaves or soil to make their chosen sleeping spot and soft and comfortable as possible.

Could your cat’s kneading be an instinct carried over from all those years ago?

To Show You Love

All of the theories above point to one thing. Your cat is happy, comfortable, and showing you affection by kneading you.

Perhaps she feels the same comfort and security with you as she did with her mother. You make her feel all warm and fuzzy, just like she did when she was little.

Or maybe, she wants to cover you with the scent from her paws to let the world know that you’re her favorite person.

Perhaps she’s poking and prodding you to make sure your lap is just right for a catnap. Your cat sleeping on you is a sure sign they love and trust you.

Related: Why Does My Cat Sleep on My Chest?

Check this informational video too:

Is Cat Kneading Normal?

kitten kneading a blanket

For all the reasons we explored above, kneading is a perfectly normal feline behavior. Not all cats make biscuits, which isn’t a cause for concern either.

Cats all have their own personalities, and some are more taken with instinctive behaviors than others. 

How To Stop Your Cat Kneading if it’s Hurting You

While you should feel honored your cat trusts and adores you enough to knead you, it can be easier said than done if they add their claws to the equation.

So how do you maintain the bond with your cat while avoiding the pain and claw marks during such moments?

Let’s explore a few options…

Don’t Punish Your Cat

Before we move on to any other solutions, it’s important to note that you should not punish your cat for habits that come naturally to her.

She won’t understand your reaction to her behavior and could lash out at you in retaliation for your unexpected response.

I appreciate it’s hard to stay calm with claws in your thigh, but using some of the following techniques will help you deal with the situation appropriately. 

Put A Blanket On Your Lap

Keep a thick, soft blanket or towel nearby and place it on your lap before your cat climbs on. 

This has the benefit of allowing you to enjoy your cat’s affection without the pain of her claws digging into your flesh.

Trim Your Cat’s Claws

Keeping on top of trimming your cat’s claws may be enough to stop kneading being a painful experience.

If the claws don’t end in sharp points, they will be less likely to scratch or puncture your skin. 

If your legs are bare or only covered by thin material, it could be an uncomfortable experience. But blunt claws are unlikely to bother you much through denim, for example.

Divert Your Cat’s Attention

If you want to stop the kneading behavior altogether, the best way is to divert your cat’s attention elsewhere.

Engage your cat with a toy she likes or shine a light for her to chase around the room. Some owners even train their cats to perform other behaviors.

Look at these adorable cats!

READ MORE: Why Does My Cat Not Want to Sleep With Me?

Why Do Cats Knead FAQs

Do cats only knead people?

a cat kneading a pink blanket

No, cats knead other cats, other animals, soft objects, people, and the air. One of my cats even kneads the dog! Cats knead when they feel comfortable, to spread their scent, and to prepare a cozy spot for sleeping.

Does every cat knead?

Kneading is a typical, perfectly normal cat behavior, but not every cat does it. You have nothing to worry about if your cat does or doesn’t knead; it’s just part of what makes them a unique feline individual.

Final Thoughts

Why do cats knead? That’s the question I set out to answer in this article.

Nobody really knows for sure why our feline friends perform this adorable behavior.

Still, the most common theory is that it carries over from an instinctive nursing behavior seen in kittens.

All of the theories agree that if your cat is kneading you, it’s a sign of affection, trust, and happiness.

If kneading is a painful experience for you, don’t punish your kitty friend for doing what comes naturally.

Instead, place something over your legs to stop your cat’s claws from hurting you, or do something to divert your cat’s attention elsewhere.

Thanks for reading cat lovers!

References

  • Fuller, M (DVM) 2012, Why Does My Cat Knead Me?, Vet Street, viewed 5 July 2021, <http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/why-does-my-cat-knead-me>.
  • Johnson-Bennett, P n.d., How Cats Use Scent Communication, Cat Behavior Associates, viewed 5 July 2021, <https://catbehaviorassociates.com/how-cats-use-scent-communication/>.
  • Llera, R (DVM) n.d., Why Cats Turn Around Before Lying Down, VCA, viewed 5 July 2021, <https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/why-cats-turn-around-before-lying-down>.
a tiger cat kneading his owner but why do cats knead?

Why do cats knead? Share your cat kneading experiences below!

Barry Stingmore
Barry Stingmore

Barry Stingmore is a British content creator living in Fuerteventura, Spain. An animal lover at heart, he shares his home with a dog and four rescue cats.

Barry works with the island’s animal charities to help manage and care for feral and abandoned animals. Alongside fieldwork, he works to support the charities with fundraising and raising awareness.