Why Do Cats Knead? 5 Reasons Your Cat Kneads You

Bright white cat paws. Sleeping on yellow background

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Kneading is when your cat alternates their front paws in a rhythmic fashion on a soft, squishy surface. Cats knead on beds, on soft blankets, and sometimes, they knead their humans.

To you, it may look like your cat is kneading dough to make delicious bread or cookies, but the kitty habit is not simply for fun.

While there is no definite one answer as to why cats knead, there are a few solid theories as to why cats engage in this bizarre ritual of “making biscuits.” Here are five possible reasons why your cat needs to knead.

1. It’s Instinctual Behavior From When They Were A Kitten

kitten on lap kneading

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Kittens knead at their mother’s tummy when they’re hungry and looking for milk. A nursing kitten will instinctively knead at their mother’s abdomen to help stimulate milk production.

Because kittens use this motion to satisfy a need, they often associate the habit with a good thing and bring it into their adult cat life, as well.

Your cat’s kneading may be an instinct they picked up and never grew out of.

2. They’re Showing You They Care

cat paws on sofa cushion

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Often when cats knead, it’s to show how content and happy they are. Have you ever noticed how your cat kneads your lap after you’ve given them a rather satisfactory petting session? They may be “petting” you back.  

Unfortunately, this can be a painful experience, as some cats use their sharp nails in the kneading process. It may be instinct for you to scold your cat for inflicting pain on you, but try not to. Your cat does not realize that kneading is a painful situation for you.

Opt for nail guards or routine nail trims to keep your cat’s loving kneading bearable for your lap.

3. They’re Preparing A Place To Rest

cat kneading their cat bed

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Our house cats’ wild ancestors kneaded tall grasses to make a cozy and secret place to sleep and rest. Many wildcats today still do this.

The habit has passed down to our domestic house kitties. If your cat is super comfortable on your lap, they may knead it to make it even more comfy for their resting needs.

4. They’re Marking Territory

cat scratching back of leather seat

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Kneading your sofa or your lap can be your cat’s way of marking their territory.

Cat paws have scent glands that secrete your cat’s unique scent. You may not be able to smell it, but other cats can.

Kneading a person or a comfy place is sometimes a discreet way your cat is telling other kitties to back off. You can redirect this behavior by providing your cat with an appropriate scratching post. Reward them when they use it so they understand that this is where they should knead from now on.

5. They Knead Because They’re Needy

cat scratching cushion of sofa

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If you have a particularly needy cat, they may knead you all of the time to solicit attention, especially if this behavior resulted in you giving them attention in the past.

If your cat purrs while kneading your thighs, this is their way of using all of their persuasive tools to get something from you–chances are it’s food.

If you find that your cat is kneading you all of the time, try clicker training to reward your cat for not digging their claws into you every time they need a refill in their food bowl.

Does your cat enjoy making the bread? What do you do to keep your cat from kneading your jeans into shreds? Share your wisdom in the comments below!