Why Do Cats Knead?

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Have you seen your cat kneading on the blanket on your bed, on its favorite toy, or even on you while you pet it? If you have a pet cat, you have most likely experienced kneading. But what does it mean? Why do cats knead anyway? What are they trying to tell us? We have put together a list of the most frequently asked questions about kneading, hoping to answer all the questions you might have about this.

Ragdoll cat Mitzi making kitty biscuits loved by Cinde
Mitzi making kitty biscuits.♥️

What is kneading anyway?

Kneading is a rhythmic motion that cats make with their paws. They push their claws, fingers, and paws in and out against a soft surface. They usually do this with one paw at a time, thus creating a rhythm. Cats usually use their forepaws to knead, but some of the use all four paws. The kneading pattern is usually specific to the cat. While some cats do not use their claws at all when they knead, others really put their claws into the motion, making the kneading quite noticeable.

Why Do Cats Knead IMG_3342

What do people call kneading?

There are many ways that people refer to cat kneading and we made a list of some of the best:

  • Making muffins.
  • Making biscuits.
  • Kitty acupuncture.
  • Playing the piano.
  • Happy paws.
  • Mashing potatoes.
  • Kneading dough.

Where does cat kneading come from?

Honey the white and silver shaded raggamuffin loved by Destin kneading
Honey, a white and silver shaded Raggamuffin, loved by Destin kneading

The answer to this question may not be as simple as you might think. In fact, there are three main theories that can explain why cats knead. Each of them makes a very good point and the complete answer may include elements from all three of the following theories:

Theory No. 1 – Cat Kneading Comes from Kitten Behavior

This is the most solid theory explaining the origins of the kneading pattern. Kittens knead on their mother’s belling while sucking at her tit. The movement stimulates milk production in the mother, which gives the kitten the food it desires. The feeding process is a very pleasant moment for the kitten because it gets to eat and be close to its mother at the same time. As such, the cat will continue to knead as an adult when it is establishing a connection similar to the one it had with its mother as a kitten.

Theory No. 2 – Cat Kneading Means that They Are Marking their Territory

It is a less known fact that cats have scent glands in their paws, so when they are kneading, they are not only creating a comfortable setting but spreading their scent and marking their territory. This is precisely why they do this on their favorite places or objects, or even on the member of the family they are closest to.

Why Do Cats Knead 61288650821__E4047489-D41C-4315-B0D2-74D07CF7E33D

Theory No. 3 – Cat Kneading Means that They Are Settling Down

The third theory says that kneading is a behavior that cats get from their ancestors. When wild cats would find a place that they would deem suitable for giving birth in, they would knead it to prepare it. They would pat down the leaves or grass to make it more comfortable. Modern-day cats have kept this behavior to make their space more welcoming for themselves.

Why do cats knead their owners?

According to the theory that kneading is a behavioral pattern coming from kitten years when an adult cat kneads on its owners, it is establishing a deep connection with them, similar to that it built with its mother. It will knead its owners when they are petting it or when they are holding the cat. The kneading is a response to the pleasure that the cat is feeling during these moments, similar to its response as a kitten to suckling on its mother.

Why does my cat knead me but not other members of the family?

This happens when a cat feels closest to a certain member of the family. The kneading is showing that person just how special he or she is to the cat. This does not mean that the cat does not enjoy interacting with other members of the family, but that one particular member that it has chosen makes it feel the safest.

Why does my cat stare at me while kneading?

As you may have seen, when cats knead as you are petting them, they will look deeply into your eyes. The main reason why they do this is to get your attention. If kneading means that they are establishing a connection, then, looking into your eyes is yet another means of getting you to contribute to this, to give them the attention that they are craving for.

Reuben Ragdoll Cat Kneading Making Biscuits IMG_1766
“Rueben the Ragdoll loves his fuzzy blanket… he will knead himself to sleep!” loved by Lecia

Why do cats knead and bite blankets?

The reason behind this is very complex. On one hand, the act of kneading a blanket means that the cat is preparing its space for sleeping or sitting. The preparation may be connected to its ancestral instinct of settling down and making a space softer to lay on. On the other hand, when the kneading is associated with biting, then it points to reminiscing the pleasant memories when the cat was drinking milk from its mother as a kitten. The biting could mean that this is a very vivid memory for the cat and, as such, it is repeating the suckling behavior.

Why do cats knead and lick their blankets?

This behavioral pattern is also linked to reminiscing the enjoyable memories from kitten-hood. When they feed, kittens knead and lick their mother’s tits to stimulate milk production. Then, the adult cat will reproduce this behavior when it feels especially comfortable. You could see your cat kneading and licking its favorite blanket, its favorite spot on the couch, or even your leg. It is a good sign and it means that the cat feels safe and extremely comfortable.

flame point Ragdoll Roo kneading
Sierra writes, “This is a photo of my flame point Ragdoll, Roo, kneading with his giant murder mittens. He was separated from his mother too early (five weeks), so he still kneads and suckle even though he’s two years old.”

Why do cats knead before lying down?

Cats knead before lying down to create a comfortable place for them to sleep or simply lay on. They will do this in places that they like, such as blankets, pillows, or cat beds. As explained above, this is connected to their ancestral instinct of settling down to give birth, but also to kitten behavior. They usually purr while kneading the place where they are about to lie down on because they are pleased to be there.

Why do cats knead your hair?

Your cat is kneading on your hair because it is similar to fur. This is also connected to the cat mimicking its kitten behavior of kneading on its mother while nursing. It is a fond gesture and it shows that your cat feels nurtured by you and that it feels safe in your presence.

Why do cats knead each other?

Cats knead each other when they have a good relationship. For instance, if you have two cats in your home and they enjoy each other’s company, they might display this by kneading on each other. This is what you are aiming for in a household with two cats.

Do all cats knead?

No, they do not. While the vast majority of cats do knead, there are some cats that do not knead at all. The kneading pattern is specific to the cat and its experiences as a kitten. Just like some cats use their front paws only to knead, while others use all four, some cats simply do not knead at all. This does not mean that there is anything wrong with them, so you shouldn’t worry about it.

Why Do Cats Knead IMG_3343

Will my cat stop kneading when it grows up?

No, it will most likely not stop kneading when it reaches adulthood. If your kitten kneads often, then it will probably continue to do so when it grows up, especially if it continues to associate this behavior with a pleasant experience, such as you holding it or petting it.

Can I stop my cat from kneading?

You probably could train your cat to stop kneading, but this is perfectly normal behavior that brings your cat a lot of joy. This is why you may want to think twice before you begin any type of training exercise in that direction.

Can I teach my cat to stop scratching me when it is kneading?

Yes, you most certainly can. You can show your cat that you do not like it when it is using its paws while kneading by stopping it the moment it takes out its claws while kneading. Pick the cat up and put it down every time it does that. You can also take its paw and push its claws back in when it starts and praise it. Moreover, when it is kneading without using its claws, you should praise it so that it knows that it is doing a good thing.

As you can see, kneading is a very important behavioral pattern for cats and it is heavily interlinked with their experiences as kittens, but also to instincts they get from their ancestors. When does your cat knead? How do you feel about it? Do you enjoy it? Tell us about your experiences with your cat kneading in the comments section below.

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Comments (5)

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  1. My Shadow has kneaded on me (nightly ritual) since he was a baby and he’s 8 years old now). It’s adorable and I’ve always viewed it as his way of affection, connection to his “mama”.

  2. My cat Ariel will cuddle up on my bed with me, paw around until she finds my jugular vein, and then start in kneading. She is my Dr. Love, I suppose. At first, I thought it was really weird, but I intuitively feel that it is a sharing of trust. I trust that she won’t murder me! (I make sure that she doesn’t use her nails, of course.) Does anyone else’s cat choose this particular area, I wonder?

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