Why Do Cats Knead?
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Why Do Cats Knead?

Est. read time: 5 min.

All pet parents know that cats have a lot of strange behaviors. For some, cat kneading takes the cake—or makes the cake, if you’ll allow us a bad joke. You may be wondering: Why do cats knead blankets and… your belly? When your cat confuses you for something soft and doughy, it’s not really because they’re hinting at you to get in shape—they’re just very content! 

Do all cats knead? Is this normal behavior or should you be concerned? Keep reading to find out why your cat is most likely doing this.  

Is cat kneading normal behavior? 

The good news is that while not all cats knead, the behavior is completely normal. It’s actually an instinctual behavior for cats to knead. You may be wondering why it’s referred to as kneading. When your cat does this, they are stretching their legs and paws, sometimes using their claws and sometimes not. The stretching resembles kneading dough and, therefore, is called kneading. 

Why do cats knead? Top 6 reasons

calico cat kneading on a blanket
Photo by Curtis Thornton on Unsplash

So, why do cats knead? There are many reasons that may cause your cat to knead, whether it be on a blanket, your couch, or even you. Let’s review some of these reasons below. 

Nursing (and the memories of)

It turns out your cat’s kneading likely stems back to his relationship with his birth mother. (Cue the Sigmund Fur-reud jokes!)

Kneading is more commonly seen in cats that have been separated from their mother as young kittens. Nursing kittens stimulate their mother’s milk production by kneading on her. So if a kitten is bottle-fed by humans from the time of his birth, he may not be as likely to “make muffins” later on.

Don’t worry, your adult kitty isn’t kneading on you because he thinks you’ll also be able to give him milk. This is an old, evolutionary response between mother and kitten that your cat is simply trying to recreate for comfort. In fact, you should probably just feel honored to be his dough.

Marking and communication 

Cats are territorial creatures. One way they mark their territory is to rub their scent on their belongings. Did you know that the pads of your cat’s paws contain scent glands?  When cats knead their paws on objects, they’re activating those scent glands, leaving their specific scent behind. This helps to convey scent-related messages to other animals, letting them know that this spot is theirs and not to be messed with. 

Signs of affections

You may notice that your cat sometimes kneads while lying on you or while you are minding your own business. If your cat is using their claws, your first instinct may be to stop and scold them. However, kneading is a sign of affection and love. This is your cat's way of telling you they love and appreciate you. Avoid yelling or pushing your cat away, as they are simply trying to be affectionate towards you! 

Wild ancestry

Just like cats’ inclination to eat grass, some have theorized that the practice of kneading is a learned trait of their wild feline ancestors. Wild cats likely kneaded down tall grass and foliage to stake out soft, comfortable spaces for sleeping or giving birth to their young.  

Looking for a mate

If you have an unspayed female cat, she has more reason to knead than her male counterparts. Kneading can be a way to communicate that female cats are ready to mate. By doing this, along with purring and lying on her back or side, she is sending a signal to a male cat that they may approach for mating purposes. 

Kneading stretches muscles

Finally, an obvious reason that your cat is kneading: The simple kneading motion allows your cat to stretch out their legs and paws. This can be especially helpful after a long cat nap in their comfortable cat tower. 

What should I do if my cat is kneading on me?

As mentioned above, cat kneading is completely normal. The kneading motion is comforting and affectionate, especially if your cat is kneading on you. It may be helpful to make sure you are keeping your cat's nails trimmed on a regular basis to avoid any injury to themselves, household objects, or you. (Yes, those needle-sharp claws digging into your flesh can be painful!) 

If it seems as though your cat is ruining certain furniture or objects, you could try redirecting your cat’s kneading to a cat pyramid or silo.

Of course, the reasons listed above may not be the only reasons your cat is kneading. If there seem to be other issues going on, consult your veterinarian for guidance on how to make your cat more comfortable. Just remember, while not all cats knead, it’s perfectly normal for your cat to do so!   

Why do cats knead blankets?

Cats knead blankets because it is comforting and often reminds them of when they instinctively kneaded their mothers to stimulate milk production as kittens.

Why do cats knead on their owners?

This is often a sign of affection and your cat's way of showing that they are comfortable and love you. 

Should you let your cat knead on you?

This is up to you and your comfort level. If your cat is using their claws, you may want to redirect them by placing them on the ground or placing a thick blanket over you to remind them to only knead on the blanket. Remember, do not punish your cat for kneading, as this is an instinct and not meant to hurt you.

Cover photo by Kate Mishchankova on Unsplash

tabby cat kneading on a bed - why do cats knead?