Why Do Cats Knead?

The Basics of How and Why Cats Make Biscuits

Ever wonder why cats knead? “Kneading” which is also commonly called “making biscuits” is the activity described when cats push and pull their front paws on a soft surface in a way that looks like they are kneading fresh biscuit dough. They also can appear to be marching in place. Cats will knead on soft surfaces like pillows, blankets, other cats, and sometimes cats will even knead on you! The simple answer to “why do cats knead?” is that it is a sign your cat is comfortable and happy. But, there are several theories as to why cats use this motion to convey happiness.

How Do You Know If Your Cat is Making Biscuits?

Cats and kittens will knead or “make biscuits” when they are happy and relaxed. Your cat is kneading when they are flexing and extending their paws in an alternating fashion. Your cat can be standing and “marching in place” or even laying down and kneading the air (also known as “air biscuits.”) Cats and kittens who knead are usually very content and it’s common for them to purr at the same time. Some cats will use just their front two paws. Others will use all four paws. And some will knead with their front paws and kick with their back paws. 

Why Do Cats Knead?

The Root of Cat Kneading

Kneading is an instinctual behavior that begins when a cat is just a kitten. Kittens will attach to their mother to nurse and then begin kneading on their mother’s belly while suckling their mother’s milk. The act of kneading is mother nature’s way of stimulating milk production in the mother. According to Fur and Feathers Veterinary Clinic, when kittens knead on their mother’s mammary glands, oxytocin is released which causes milk to flow. A similar hormonal reaction happens with human mothers and babies. Oxytocin is often called the “love hormone” because it is released during hugging, kissing, nursing–or kneading. The kitten massages mom, and mom relaxes while the kitten nurses. 

Kneading Reminds Adult Cats Of Their Kittenhood

Adult cats may knead because it reminds them of being a kitten. It’s thought that the act of kneading is comforting and reminds your cat of the safety and love it felt from its mother as a kitten. Some cats even suck on a blanket or other soft object as they knead, further reminding them of kittenhood. PetMD says that suckling is rarely harmful and it is a natural instinct in many cats. Blanket suckling can be thought of as similar to a toddler sucking their thumb. However, a study by the National Institutes of Health also found that adult blanket suckling may be a sign that the cat was weaned too early. Pleasant Plains Animal Hospital says that although kittens should be eating solid foods around 8 weeks of age, they should stay with their mother until they are 12-14 weeks old to avoid any risk of developmental, social, and health issues.

Tortie cat nurses kittens in the grass

Dilute tortie “Maggie” nurses her kittens in the grass. Kittens are kneading and suckling their mother.


Ancient Cats Kneaded In Order To Create A Cozy Place to Lie Down

West Park Animal Hospital says that cats may knead because their ancestors did, too. Before domestication, wild cats would have flattened desert grasses into a soft bed to sleep on or have kittens on. The kneading motion would help squish down grass into a cozy resting place. This behavior may also be a way to test out an area and make sure there’s other cat or predator hiding out in their potential nap spot. A cat’s squeezing paws will feel any critters or bugs that may have already claimed the area.

Cats Knead Because It Feels Good To Stretch

Have you ever kneaded bread dough? After a while, it can be quite the hand and shoulder workout. It’s thought that cats will make biscuits to get a good stretch. The act of kneading is great for your cat in building their upper body strength. Cats use their upper body to climb and play, so kneading may be a part of their personal fitness routine. Alternatively, after a particularly strenuous play session your cat may want to knead on you to work out those sore muscles!

Cats Will Knead Objects That Belong To Them – Including You!

Similar to rubbing their head on you or scratching their favorite toy, kneading is a way cats mark their territory. Cats have scent glands in their soft paw pads that will release their smell onto whatever they are kneading (even you!), says PetMD. Cats are territorial creatures and have many different ways to mark out a space or thing as their own. According to The American Animal Hospital Association, cats’ scent markers leave other cats a message as cats rely on scent-related communication to “talk” with other cats. When your cat kneads you, she may be telling other cats in the home that you belong to her.

Young cat kneading and suckling a blanket

Young male cat is making biscuits or kneading and suckling a soft faux fur blanket.


Do All Cats Knead?

While kneading is very common in cats, not all cats will knead. If your cat doesn’t show this behavior – don’t fret. The absence of kneading behavior doesn’t mean they don’t “knead you” any less. Sometimes, all you need is the right fabric to get kneading started. Cats may knead on soft materials like fleece or faux fur blankets, stuffed animals, sweaters (bonus because they smell like you!), or wool. But don’t worry if it never happens!

My Cat’s Kneading Is Painful! What Should I Do?

Cat and kitten kneading is adorable to watch. But if your kitty uses its claws while kneading, it can become painful. To make it pleasant for the two you:

  • Trim your cat’s claws regularly
  • Never yell at your cat – this is 100% natural behavior
  • Keep a blanket near where you sit and put the blanket between you and your cat so that they knead the blanket on top of you
  • If you don’t have a blanket or other material, gently pick up your cat and place them in a comfy, cozy place. 

Cat kneading is fun to watch – it’s one of the most popular types of cat behavior on the internet.  Like scratching or purring, a kneading cat is doing what is natural and instinctive – it’s a completely normal behavior. Even big cats like lions are known to make biscuits! Cat kneading is one of the many ways cats can show you how much they love you – so enjoy this special time with your cat.