Why Do Cats Knead?

Cat kneading, also known as 'making biscuits' is an adorable behaviour, usually seen when they're having a good fuss! You may be wondering why they do this and want to discover the reasoning behind the behaviour, which is why we've put together this handy guide to tell you everything you need to know.
cat kneading on owners lap

Cat kneading is a common cat behaviour, often displayed as the rhythmic pushing of their paws in and out at alternating times. Many people think that it looks like they’re kneading dough, which is why it’s also adorably known as ‘making biscuits’. Cats love to do this on soft surfaces like cosy blankets, squishy cushions, or most commonly your lap when they’re having a good fuss!

If you have a cat that does this, you may be wondering about the reasons why cats knead? Which is why we’ve put together this article so you can find out the truth behind your feline friend’s baking habits.

What is cat kneading?

Most cats will knead, but not all will do it in the same way. Where the motion of their paws usually remains the same, the accompanying actions may differ. Some will purr really loudly, where others may do it quietly, others may do it with just their front paws, whereas some will put their all into it and use all four. Most cats will at least display the classic making biscuits action. Additionally, whilst cats knead it’s not unusual for them to appear to be in a trance-like state and look almost glazed over. This just means that they’re completely relaxed.

Why do cats knead?

There are actually many reasons why cats knead, but the main one is that it’s an instinctive trait that they inherit from kitten-hood. When kittens feed from their mother they will paw at their mothers’ stomachs to encourage milk flow. This is why sometimes cats may dribble while doing it or might suckle at a soft object such as a blanket or cushion, because they’re expecting the milk that used to come with the movement.

a cat's paws

Where it may seem unusual that they still display this trait when they get older, according to the Blue Cross it’s actually a huge compliment for you, because when they do this it means that they feel happy, safe and comforted with you, much like how they felt with their mother!

Making a nest

Another theory for cats kneading is that it’s a cat behaviour that’s been passed down from their wild ancestors. Wild cats will paw at piles of leaves or tall grass to create a nest for themselves and their young to relax and sleep in. By doing this to the ground they’re not only creating a soft nest – similarly to how we fluff pillows – but they’re also checking for predators, prey or dangerous things hidden in the foliage. So when your domestic cat does this to your lap it may be an ingrained habit from their wild history!

Marking territory

Your cat may also be marking their territory, due to the fact that there are scent glands that release pheromones in their paws. By pushing their paws in and out they activate these scent glands, so they could be doing this on your lap to mark you as their own and warning other cats to back off.

Going into heat

Female cats may also knead when they go into heat (also known as estrus). PetMD says that when they do this it demonstrates to male cats that they’re ready to mate. They may display other behaviours along with this such as being overly vocal, displaying more affection than usual and begging to go outside.

To stop these behaviours, you should consider getting your cat neutered or spayed, which can prevent numerous diseases as well as avoiding unplanned pregnancies. For more information, take a look at our cat neutering FAQs.

What to do if your cat kneading you hurts

Some cats might knead with their claws out which can sometimes feel as though they’re using your lap as a pin cushion! When cats knead like this it can be painful for you and their claws may rip at your clothes, so you’ll likely want them to stop. It’s important that you never punish them for doing it as it’s an instinctive behaviour and they’re only returning the affection they feel from you, but there are a few methods you can try.

cat clawing owners hand

If your cat is sinking their claws in a little too much, try putting a soft barrier between you both like a cushion or a blanket. You can also encourage your cat to lie down and relax by stroking them and gently pushing them down onto your lap. Alternatively, distract your cat with a fun toy and they’ll soon stop sinking their claws into your lap.

So now you know the reason behind why cats knead and that you should take it as the ultimate compliment your cat could give you. To find out more interesting information about cat behaviour and training, take a look at our content hub.