What is Cat Kneading, and Why Do They Do It?

Have you ever seen your cat kneading? Some people refer to this behavior as “catting” or “making biscuits,” but these terms all mean the same thing. All cats knead at some point, but why do they do this?

Cat kneading

If your cat has been kneading a lot lately and you find yourself wondering why, you’re not alone. In the article below, you’ll find out some more information about what kneading is and why cats perform this common, if confusing behavior.

“This is one of the special joys of being a cat parent, even if it may be very early in the morning,” says Heart + Paw’s Chief Veterinary Officer, George Melillo, on the behavior of cat kneading.

What is Cat Kneading?

Kneading is a behavior in which cats stretch their legs out in front of their bodies and extend their claws, usually one paw at a time, then retract them again. This behavior is repeated over and over, and the cat effectively kneads just like a human might when preparing dough for baking bread.

This behavior is usually observed in cats while they are purring. They may also hold their heads low to the surface they are kneading, and may also sometimes suckle or try to nurse the surface as well. Although the claws are included in this action, cats do not knead with the intention to scratch or cause harm to the surface—or person—they are kneading.

4 Common Reasons for Cat Kneading

When it all boils down, there are really 4 common reasons why cats knead. Below, we’ll go over these reasons and explain them a little further.

4 common reasons why your cat is kneading are:

Kneading is Necessary for Kittens

Kittens must knead if they want to nurse their mothers. From birth, kittens instinctively know that they will get more milk while nursing if they gently mash on their mother’s belly around her nipples. Brand new baby kittens will start kneading almost right away, as soon as they suckle for the first time.

As kittens get older, they continue to knead and nurse at the same time. Even when they move on to eating solid food, they will likely continue the kneading behavior as long as they are allowed to stay near their mothers.

Kneading Encourages Calmness and Comfort

Because cats associate kneading with being a kitten and the experience of being near their mothers in the first few weeks of life, they feel calm and comforted when they knead. The experience is a lot like being wrapped in a soft, warm blanket might be for a human.

When a cat needs to feel comforted because she is in pain or is scared, she may look for an opportunity to knead. However, it is much more common for cats to knead when they already feel comfortable and calm, especially if they are in a location where they feel extremely safe and secure. The safer and more “at home” a cat feels, the more likely they’ll be to knead as a result of their feelings.

Kneading is a Bonding Experience

Since cat kneading is associated with comfort, they often use it to bond with each other. Cats who are very close to each other, especially littermates or mothers and kittens, may groom each other while kneading each other as a sign of bonding. They may perform this activity regularly as they grow even closer to each other.

Cats may also knead as a bonding experience with other animals in the household. If your cat gets along well with your dog, for example, she may knead on the dog as she tries to groom him, too.

Some dogs are tolerant of this, but some may not like the sharp claws involved in the kneading process! If your dog is uncomfortable, it is a good idea to move your cat before they start kneading, so they won’t startle your dog and make them snap.

Kneading Communicates Affection

Finally, kneading is a way cats communicate affection with each other. If cats want other cats to know that they feel affectionate toward their feline friends, they may knead often to explain this through body language.

More commonly, however, cats knead to show affection to their human family members. Cats may like to cuddle next to their humans or lay on laps, and they may often knead while they do this. If your cat sleeps in the bed with you, you might notice them kneading as they get comfortable for a long nap or bedtime. Your cat might even climb on you and knead the covers to show how happy they are to be near you.

There’s No Need to Worry About Cat Kneading

As you can see, there is no cause for concern if your cat is kneading. However, many cat owners question this behavior, and some may not enjoy being clawed and pricked by their cats during this activity.

If you do not want your cat to knead on you, then you should try putting a blanket down on your lap when your cat wants to cuddle. This way, your cat will be able to knead the blanket instead, and both of you will be more content during the experience, too.

If you have any questions or concerns about your cat’s behavior or health, we’re all ears here at Heart + Paw! Don’t hesitate to call one of our amazing centers or book an appointment online for more information about cat kneading.

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Heart + Paw was founded in 2018 by Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. George Melillo, who currently serves the Mid-Atlantic area. Heart + Paw offers a combination of veterinary care, pet grooming, and dog daycare to help be a resource in your pet parenthood journey.

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