If you’ve been stumped by feline behaviors in the past, join the club. Cats have some endearing but also quirky tendencies that just beg to be explained – such as curling up tightly to take a nap, or grooming fastidiously after a meal.
One such tendency is the habit of “making biscuits” or kneading. But what exactly is this? And why do cats knead? Godspeed Animal Care explores this question, here.
What is Cat Kneading?
Before we get into why cats knead, let’s talk about what exactly it is. Cat kneading is a pushing motion cats make with their paws, alternating between left and right. It often occurs on a soft surface such as a bed, pillow, blanket, or your lap. Some cats knead with claws completely retracted, and others extend their claws as they push out and retract them as they pull back.
The behavior is called “kneading” because it resembles how a baker works bread dough.
Why Do Cats Knead?
There are a plethora of theories as to why cats knead. Take your pick, but remember that cats who knead are expressing a natural, normal, and common behavior. Never punish your cat for kneading!
One of the most common theories is that cats keep the kitten tendency to knead. When kittens are nursing, they knead their mother’s belly to stimulate milk. And although kneading a soft surface after kittenhood doesn’t yield milk, it still may evoke the rewarding comfort of nursing.
Kneading may also go back to the days when wild cats patted down their nightly bed of tall grass and brush by kneading. Some cats will knead before settling down to nap, so this theory makes sense.
A practical answer to the question of ‘why do cats knead?’ may be in scent marking. There are scent glands in a cat’s paw pads. When cats knead, their unique scent is released onto the object being kneaded. And that scent acts as a way to mark that object as theirs. So when your cat kneads on you, not only are they telling you that they feel safe and secure with you, but they are marking you as their own.
When Love Hurts
If your cat loves to knead on you, it’s a good incentive to keep her nails short. You could also keep a towel close by to place between your cat and your lap, to avoid being scratched or your clothing snagged.
If the kneading motion is uncomfortable enough to really bother you, try the following tactics:
- Gently pull your cat down onto your lap in a lying position so she settles and falls asleep
- Distract her with a toy, a game, or a treat
- Place her on her bed or another soft surface when she starts to knead you, so she learns that’s the preferred kneading spot
Some female cats knead as they are going into heat. If that’s the case, the best way to eliminate the symptoms associated with feline estrus cycles is to have your cat spayed.