Cats come up to some fascinating and often very perplexing behaviors. Few of which are as iconic as kneading. While this is a very common feline behavior, it is also one of the more misunderstood cat characteristics.
If you’ve come across this article, you have probably noticed this behavior in a cat and are wanting to know more about it. Why do cats knead? Why is it called making biscuits? Why does your cat knead you?
We’re here to help with all the answers to your questions about this.
Stop Googling – Ask a Real Vet
What is kneading?
First, let’s look at the definition of kneading. To “massage or squeeze with the hands”. Or in this case, paws.
In a nutshell, cat kneading can best be described as the rhythmic pawing often with alternating paws as if preparing dough — hence, it’s also referred to as ‘making biscuits’. If a cat has ever gone to town in a biscuit-making frenzy on your leg, you’ll know that it’s like getting a cat massage. Sure, this sounds super relaxing, and it is… until the claws come out.
Why do cats knead and bite blankets?
Smurgling is a cat behavior that includes kneading. It also includes nuzzling, purring, and salivating, as well as blanket biting. This is like taking making biscuits to the next level. This is a perfectly normal cat behavior, so there’s no need for concern.
Why do cats make biscuits?
Kneading is an instinctual activity for cats. If you’ve ever watched a cat kneading away on a blanket or your thigh (RIP leg, right?), then you know how happy and almost Zen cats appear when they’re rhythmically pawing away. Sometimes, cats will get so carried away that their kneading can become increasingly over-enthusiastic, and sometimes even bordering on aggressive.
Other than simply enjoying the motion, there are a few other theories as to why cats knead.
Leftovers from weaning
We’ll start by throwing it back to kitten life. When young kittens are nursing, they will knead their mom to stimulate the mother’s milk production. This is a safe, happy time in a cat’s life when momma is on hand to cuddle, clean, and protect her babies.
As the cat grows older, they may continue this kneading behavior as a way of reliving the comfort and warmth of their mother’s love.
Kittens that are removed from their mother too early tend to hang on to this juvenile trait more, but when kneading is carried into adulthood it’s usually because cats associate it with their momma and the safety that they felt while nursing.
Happiness and comfort
This brings us to our next theory on why cats knead. Using kneading as a way of conveying happiness and comfort is just one way that cats show us that they love and trust us. A cat making biscuits is in their happy place.
What does it mean when a cat kneads you? It’s confirmation that your cat has formally adopted you as their replacement parent (congrats!).
Unfortunately, while you’ll feel overjoyed at having such an honor bestowed upon you, it also sometimes comes with the searing pain of your cat’s murder mittens shredding away at your flesh (in the cutest possible way, of course).
While it’s tempting to jump up, shriek in agony, and send your cat scurrying, we recommend not disturbing the moment. No matter how challenging that is. Your cat is trying to show you the ultimate love. They’re completely unaware that this might be painful for you. Rejecting your cat at this moment would be the ultimate snub.
For this very reason, it’s a good idea to keep Sir Pounce’s nails trimmed. And maybe try to have a thick cat kneading blanket between your soft skin and those razor-sharp claws…
Kneading is a form of nesting behavior. Your cat is simply making their chosen sleeping spot more suitable to their high standards. They’ll paw away to soften a pillow or to create a cozy little hollow in a fluffy blanket where they can curl up for a good ol’ catnap.
For an animal that can spend up to 18 hours a day asleep, it’s essential to have a good spot to snooze in. And if it isn’t just right, your cat will knead it until it is. Kneading is a useful tool to massage a chosen sleeping spot into submission to make it more comfortable.
A cat’s world is driven by scent. A cat’s body has various scent glands that produce pheromones that cats rub off as a way of communicating with other cats.
Cats leave messages for one another using these pheromones and these messages linger long after the cat who created them has left. Think of this as your cat leaving little scent notes for any other cats that may come along.
In addition to glands on their cheeks and flanks, and at the base of their tail, cats have scent glands on their paws. Kneading, therefore, is a way of spreading this scent to whatever they’re kneading.
The purpose of this is to let other cats know that the blanket, sofa, bed, or pillow has been claimed. Why do cats knead their owners? To claim them, of course! If your cat is kneading you, then, congrats, you’ve been claimed. This is your cat’s way of marking you as their territory and letting other cats know to back off.
My cat doesn’t knead!
While many cats knead as kittens, not all adult cats will continue this behavior as they age. If your cat isn’t partial to a good kneading session, there’s absolutely no reason to panic. Your cat is not broken.
If your cat doesn’t knead on you, it doesn’t mean your cat loves you any less or isn’t happy. It simply means that your cat prefers other ways to communicate happiness or love. Just like humans have different ways of communicating, so too do cats.
It’s important to get to know your cat’s body language and what they may be trying to communicate with you. That way, if their behavior changes, you’ll pick it up more easily. You’ll also cause less offense to your feline friend by responding to their communication appropriately.
Why has my cat stopped kneading?
Cats may stop kneading for a few reasons. The most obvious of which is because your cat doesn’t feel happy or comfortable. This might be as a result of an underlying illness or stress.
Evaluate your cat’s world. Has there recently been a significant or sudden change in your cat’s life? A new family member, a new home, or a new pet could cause your cat to feel slightly stressed. Even a change in the way the furniture is laid out or a new sofa can make your cat feel uneasy. A recent illness might also cause this.
Once your cat has adjusted to the change or recovered from any stressors, they should resume their kneading. If you’re concerned, it’s always best to consult a vet and rule out any potential medical issues. Consider signing up with Petcube’s Online Vet, which offers veterinary advice 24/7 at the click of a button.
It’s also important to remember that a new cat will most likely knead you more to smother you in their scent. Once they’re satisfied you’ve been suitably claimed and they begin to feel more secure and settled in their new home, they may knead you less and the behavior may taper off.
How to stop your cat from kneading
Kneading is adorable, and we’d always encourage you to let your cat knead to their heart’s content, but there are situations where you may want to discourage kneading. This is particularly common where the kneading is inadvertently over-enthusiastic and causing you injury, or where you wish to protect delicate furniture or belongings.
First, and most importantly, never punish or scold your cat for kneading. It’s a very natural and healthy behavior and your cat may react aggressively to being punished. This is also likely to damage the bond between you and your feline friend by eroding any trust.
Instead of trying to get your cat to stop kneading, try to redirect their kneading instinct more appropriately. This way, your cat doesn’t feel stifled and can still express their cat-ness, and you can protect your body or belongings. Win-win.
These tips will help you encourage appropriate kneading behavior:
- Keep kitty’s claw neatly trimmed or invest in silicone nail covers;
- Redirect your cat’s attention using toys or treats. This way you get them to stop the shredding, but they don’t feel rejected;
- Cats can be trained to knead in only certain areas. Use pheromone sprays to direct your cat to only make their biscuits on certain blankets or furniture;
- Remember to reward and praise good kneading behavior that you wish to encourage. Positive reinforcement of good behavior works much better on cats than punishment for wrongdoing.