Why Do Cats Knead – Quirky Behavior Explained

Watch a cat kneading, and you will see something mesmerizing. It is an absolute joy to see a cat rhythmically pushing back and forth with its paws, kneading a soft object.

Kneading is a common quirky behavior among domestic cats. Cats push in and out with their front paws, alternating between left and right. But why do they do it? Why do cats knead?

It is a common question among cat owners, and we have a couple of answers to the behavior. Some veterinarians call this behavior kneading dough or making biscuits.

Truth be told, there is no right answer why do cats knead. There are only a number of hypotheses.

How cats knead?

Before we answer why let’s talk about the how the aspect of the question. Kneading, as mentioned previously, is often referred to as making biscuits. Why? Simply because the motion resembles a baker kneading dough.

Kneading is most often done on a soft and pliable surface. Think a pillow, a comforter, or another cat and a kitten. Sometimes, cats can knead your lap. In most cases, kneading is accompanied by purring, and sometimes drooling.

As your cat is kneading, it is common for her to be in an almost trance-like stance.

Why the kneading?

There is no one definite answer why do cats knead. As mentioned, there are some ideas and thoughts. One of the most common explanations is that cats knead because it is a leftover behavior from their kittenhood.

During nursing, a kitten kneads the area around their mother’s teat to promote the flow of milk. When they are in adulthood, cat knead because they are feeling happy or content because it associates the motion with the comfort of nursing.

With that in mind, here are some common explanations of why do cats knead.

Love and affection

If your cat is in your lap, and you are petting her, she wants to return the affection and love. Kneading is a way the cat is telling you he loves you right back. The problem is, kneading can be quite painful.

The happier your cat is, the harder he will dig in your lap with his sharp nails. You can try placing a soft barrier between your lap and your cat.

The thing you need to remember is you should not punish your cat for this behavior. Your cat doesn’t know kneading can hurt you.

Stretching

Another reason why cats love kneading is stretching. They want to work out their muscles after napping.

The same way we practice yoga to stretch our muscles, cats practice kneading. It is one of the cat’s natural ways of keeping limber until she takes another nap.

Checking the bed

Cats love to sleep in comfortable surfaces. Kneading is a way to check the area. For example, wild ancestors of domestic cats kneaded down tall grass or leave to get themselves a comfortable spot for sleeping. Some domestic cats still have that instinct.

Protecting his own territory

You might think dogs are territorial creatures, but cats are even worse in that regard. One way cats safeguard their stuff is to scent-mark the territory and belongings.

They do this by kneading their paws onto the surface of an area. Cats have scent glands in the soft pads on the bottoms of their paws.

When they are kneading you, their unique scent is released onto the surface. So, they are marking you as their owner, so no other cat can come close to you. Feeling a bit jealous, are we cat?

Ready to mate

Female cats knead their pads just before going into heat. It is their way of showing willingness and ability to mate. Male cats will come instantly.

Early separation from mother

This theory is old but still holds ground. According to the theory, cats knead because they were separated or weaned from their mother too early.

Therefore, they continue their kitten behavior into adulthood. But nowadays, you can see most cats knead, making this theory not plausible.

What to do if your cat is kneading

If your cat kneads you frequently, it might be a good idea to keep her claws trimmed. Even if she is not kneading you, trimming the claws will help you prevent some unwanted situations, you avoid being scratched or having your clothing snagged.

Another good idea is to keep a folded towel next to your favorite chair. Use it to protect your lap as soon as your cat starts kneading you with his/her paws.

If the kneading motion makes you uncomfortable, try to gently pull your cat down into a lying position. This way, your cat can settle down, and go to sleep. Other tricks to stop kneading involve gently holding his front paws together, pet him, and or distract him with a toy/treat.

Some female cats start kneading when they go into heat, and it is a signal to males that she is willing to mate.

How to stop kneading

In some cases, kneading can become an obsessive behavior of your cat. And, as mentioned, even painful when she pokes her claws into your lap.

Here are some ideas for stopping and discouraging kneading.

  • Cover your cat’s paws with your hands so that it is harder to knead
  • Try distracting your cat by offering her favorite toy
  • If you offer a treat, be careful, you do not want to encourage treats as a reward for kneading
  • Gently pull your cat into a lying position the second she starts the kneading motion
  • Most importantly, keep her nails trimmed so that even if she kneads, there are scratches on your body

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