All About Cat Kneading

If you’ve ever had a cat snuggle up in your lap, you have likely noticed her engaging in an endearing, but perhaps also painful, rhythmic kneading into your thighs. Although those extended claws can hurt, she’s not actually scratching you, and may even purr contentedly as she pushes in and out with her paws. What gives?

Cat kneading is a normal, natural, and common cat behavior. Beverly Hills Veterinary Associates explains why cats knead. 

What Is Cat Kneading?

Because cat kneading looks similar to a baker working bread dough and is even sometimes referred to as “making biscuits”. Essentially cats use a pushing motion with their paws, alternating from left to right. Not all cats knead, and some do so only infrequently, but most will exhibit this behavior from time to time. 

Why Do Cats Knead?

There are a multitude of theories as to why cats knead. 

Are you my mama? – The most common theory is that adult cats keep their kitten tendency to knead. In kittenhood, kneading stimulates the mother’s milk while kittens are nursing. The thought is that even though kneading a soft surface past kittenhood doesn’t yield milk, it still evokes the feeling of rewarding comfort that comes with nursing.

Love hurts – Cats love their pet parents, and if you’re on the receiving end of cat kneading, you’re the chosen one. Kneading often happens when a cat is sitting on your lap, and if she extends her claws while she shows her affection, it can be painful to say the least. Ensure her nails are trimmed regularly, and if necessary place a towel in between her and your lap. 

S-t-r-r-r-e-e-t-c-h – Cats may knead as they stretch for the same reason you do- it feels good. They may hold on to a soft surface while kneading as they stretch their back and shoulders. After all that napping, some stretching is definitely in order. 

Mine, mine, mine – Cats are territorial, and kneading may be a way to activate scent marking. Cats have scent glands on their paw pads, and kneading activates the glands. So whatever your cat kneads may be considered hers (including you!).

Making the bed – In the wild, cats ensure their comfort and safety by making sleeping surfaces more inviting. They do this by kneading down tall grasses and brush, while checking for inhospitable neighbors underneath. The kneading action creates a soft nest or bed ideal for resting or bearing young. This is a wild instinct that many domestic cats retain. 

A Natural Instinct

Cats have many unique and quirky behaviors, and cat kneading is just one of them. It can be a wonderful bonding moment when your cat leaps up into your lap and starts to knead. Remember that it’s a natural instinct, and never punish your cat for kneading. 

If you want to prevent her from kneading on you, gently move her to a kitty bed or designated towel when she starts to knead. In time, she’ll learn that this is the preferred place.
If you have questions about your cat’s health or well being, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’re here for all your cat questions!