Why Do Cats Knead?
Cats are known for their many mysterious, silly and overall endearing behaviors – how else would they have become the rulers of the internet? One often misunderstood and undeniably cute behaviors is cat kneading. As a cat parent, you might be wondering what’s going through your feline friend’s head as he rhythmically pushes against soft surfaces with his paws. We’re here to shed a little light on what cat kneading means and how you can encourage good kneading behaviors that don’t leave your furniture (or your lap) in shreds.
What is Cat Kneading?
“Kneading” is a common behavior in both male and female cats. The action is also referred to as cats making biscuits, happy paws, muffin-making, kneading dough, playing the piano or mashing potatoes. When a cat kneads, they will usually push down with their front paws, alternating from one to the other. Sometimes they’ll even press with their back paws, too!
Cats usually knead on soft, plush surfaces, like a cat bed, blanket, couch cushion or warm lap. Some cats like to use their claws while kneading, but others might keep them sheathed. While they knead, they might purr, have a zoned-out expression on their faces or even start drooling. These are all signs that your kitty is perfectly content and relaxed. It’s also one of the surest signs of a happy cat!
If you’ve ever wondered how to tell if your cat loves you, kneading in your lap is a great indicator that he does! Kneading while sitting on your lap shows that your cat feels totally relaxed and at home with you, which is one of his many funny ways of saying he loves you.
Why Do Cats Knead Blankets, Cushions and Laps?
Aside from showing their contentment, there are a few other reasons why cats love making biscuits. Unfortunately, none of them are related to dreams of making it big as a professional baker.
Leftover Kitten Instincts
When cats are still kittens feeding from their mother’s milk, they paw, or knead, at their mother’s stomach to help get the milk flowing. Because kneading stems from feeding, it’s not uncommon for adult cats to drool or suckle on blankets or other soft objects while squishing them with their paws. It’s kind of like how human babies suck their thumbs.
A popular theory about why cats knead as adults is that they were weaned from their mother’s milk too early. However, this has largely been disproven since so many cats have been observed kneading regardless of when they were weaned or separated from their mothers. Cats kneading on or around you is actually a very positive thing for them to do – it means they feel as safe and relaxed around you as they did with their own mothers. And, as we mentioned earlier, they’re essentially using their paws to say, “I love you!”
Does your kitty cat love to make biscuits on his bed, furniture or other comfy things he comes across? Another possible explanation is that he’s making a “nest.” Some theories speculate that kneading is a behavior passed down from our cats’ bigger, wilder ancestors. When these ancestors searched for the perfect napping nook in the wild, they would paw at the area to make sure nothing dangerous or uncomfortable was hidden in the leaves. So, on top of getting comfortable, your cat might also be making totally certain that his sleeping spot is as safe as it looks.
Along with making his nest more comfortable, your cat might be making his body feel better by kneading as well. The pushing and pulling action of kneading could be a way that cats stretch out their shoulders and other arm joints after a long day of napping. Maybe it’s something we humans should try!
Spreading Their Scent
Cats communicate with each other and their humans in a variety of ways. One way they communicate with each other is by marking their territory with their scent. While you might automatically think of spraying, this is only one of the behaviors cats use to spread their scent. Another is – you guessed it – making biscuits!
Cats have scent glands on many parts of their bodies, from their cheeks to their tails. These glands are also present in their paw pads. Kneading could be one of many different ways that they mark their favorite resting spots with their scent.
Sending the Message
Aside from marking territory, your cat might spread her scent for a different reason. Female cats sometimes knead, purr and stretch around possible mates to invite them to approach. In most cases, however, the female will raise her pelvis with her tail to one side to send the clearest message. This behavior will likely stop once your cat is neutered, but she may continue kneading for any of the other reasons we listed.
How to Stop Cats from Kneading
Cats making biscuits are pretty darn cute, but let’s admit it – those little claws hurt when they dig into your lap over and over again. Kneading can take a toll on your furniture over time, too. You shouldn’t punish your cat for kneading, since it’s a happy and comfortable action for them, but there are ways to encourage appropriate kneading behaviors.
To help save your furniture, it’s a great idea to cover your cat’s favorite kneading spots with a blanket, towel or other cushion cover that you don’t mind being damaged. You can even spray the covering with a pheromone-based spray to further encourage your cat to knead there instead of on other parts of the furniture. Remember, you can always chat with your vet about your cat’s kneading to find the best solution for his unique behaviors.
If your lap is what needs saving, the blanket trick can help there too. Simply place a thick blanket or towel over your lap to create a barrier between you and your cat’s claws. Spraying it with pheromones can help in this case as well. If it’s too hot for a blanket, you can try distracting your cat with toys to stop him from kneading or gently coax him into a laying position to make him stop.
Another great way to distract your cat from kneading, or to reward him for kneading on appropriate surfaces, is to give him a treat. Treating will help solidify your training and create a special moment that you both can enjoy. Meow Mix® brand has a ton of options your cat is sure to ask for by name:
- Meow Mix® Irresistibles® Crunchy With White Meat Chicken & Turkey: If your cat loves poultry flavors and plenty of crunch, these tasty treats will speak to his heart (and his tastebuds).
- Meow Mix® Irresistibles® Soft With White Meat Chicken: Give your cat the softer side of flavor with these purr-worthy treats. They also come in turkey, salmon and tuna flavors!
- Ocean Explosion® Treats: Does your kitty think fishy flavors are the cat’s meow? These crunchy treats are sure to win him over.
Kneading is just one of many ways that cats show their love and affection for us – and treats are one of the many ways we show ours. Give your cat the treats he “kneads” in his life.
Purrs are a window into your cat’s heart and a way they communicate with you.
Cats have their quirks. Read what animal expert Dr. Neely says about why cats do the things they do, from playing with water to chirping at birds.