An orange tabby cat with claws out, arms outstretched.
An orange tabby cat with claws out, arms outstretched. Photography by VIZLAND/THINKSTOCK.

Why Do Cats Knead? Explaining Cat Kneading, a Quirky Cat Behavior

Why do cats knead? If you're stumped by cat kneading, check out this explanation for one of the most baffling feline behaviors — and what to do about it!
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Why do cats knead? Cats are interesting creatures, with many traits and behaviors that are easily recognized as being uniquely feline — the way they curl up tightly to take a nap, for example, or their characteristic grooming rituals after enjoying a meal. Cat kneading is another common feline behavior. The kneading is a motion cats make by pushing in and out with their paws, alternating between right and left. Some cats knead with claws completely retracted, while others will extend their claws as they push in and retract as they pull back. So, why do cats knead? Let’s take a look.

Why do cats knead? A gray and white cat, sucking and kneading on a blanket.
Why do cats knead? There are a few different reasons why cats knead. Photography ©Silvia Jansen | Alamy Stock Photo.

First, let’s look at how cats knead

Before we answer “Why do cats knead” let’s look at how they knead. Kneading is sometimes colloquially referred to as “making biscuits,” because the motion resembles a baker kneading dough. Cats almost always knead on a soft, pliable surface like a pillow, a comforter, another cat or kitten, or even your lap. Often cat kneading is accompanied by contented purring, and sometimes even by drooling as the cat relaxes his jaw. It’s not uncommon for a cat to be in an almost trance-like state as he kneads with a steady, rhythmic motion.

So, why do cats knead?

There are a few ways to answer the question, “Why do cats knead?” Explanations for why cats knead vary, but it is without doubt an instinctive trait. Newborn kittens knead their mother’s belly as they snuggle close to nurse, and the motion is thought to stimulate the flow of milk through her nipples. One rather outdated theory proclaims that cats that knead were separated from or weaned from their mother too early, and therefore continue the kittenish behavior into adulthood, yet nearly all adult cats knead, regardless of how or when they weaned. It’s more likely that the answer to “Why do cats knead?” is that it’s simply comforting to cats. (Although some cats do “suckle” the corner of a pillow or blanket while they are kneading.)

Kneading may also go back to the days when wild cats patted down tall grass or shredded leaves to make a soft, fluffy bed for sleeping or giving birth. Through the ages, the behavior continues to a natural part of cat instinct before settling down for a comfortable catnap.

There’s also a more practical aspect to answering the question, “Why do cats knead?” Cats have scent glands in the soft pads on the bottoms of their paws. When they knead, they release some of their unique scent onto the kneaded surface. That scent serves as a kind of territorial marker for any unfamiliar cats that might come along and try to stake a claim. So when your cat is kneading your lap, he’s not only telling you he feels comfortable and secure, but he’s claiming you as his own. (Scratching is also a natural part of cat instinct that results in the cat leaving his own residual scent behind, as well as a visual marker — claw marks — that other cats can recognize.)

What to do about cat kneading

Another question you might have after asking, “Why do cats knead?” is — “What should I do about cat kneading?” If your cat kneads you frequently, it’s a good incentive to keep those cat claws trimmed, in order to avoid being scratched or having your clothing snagged. You could also keep a folded towel next to your favorite chair, and use it to protect your lap as your cat kneads you with his paws.

If the kneading motion is uncomfortable enough to really bother you, you can try gently pulling your cat down into a lying position so he settles down and goes to sleep. Other tricks involve gently holding his front paws together, petting him, or distracting him with a toy or a treat. Pet behavior experts agree that it’s not appropriate to punish a cat for natural and instinctive behaviors like kneading.

Some female cats will knead frequently just before going into heat, as a signal to males of her willingness and ability to mate. As the estrus cycle continues, the cat will make plaintive meows that quickly escalate into loud, persistent yowls that are an effort to get the attention of a male. She may also pace restlessly, mark areas of your house with urine, become extremely affectionate and assume the mating position (head low, with raised hindquarters) when you pet her. It’s impossible to discourage these natural behaviors, and the best way to eliminate the symptoms associated with the female estrus cycle is to have your cat spayed.

Top photograph: Photography by VIZLAND/THINKSTOCK.

Tell us: Does your cat knead? What does he knead?

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69 thoughts on “Why Do Cats Knead? Explaining Cat Kneading, a Quirky Cat Behavior”

  1. I’ve found that not all cats knead. I have two American Shorthair brother and sister. The female kneads but the male doesn’t.

    1. Same with my female. That’s why whenever I’m sitting in my chair in the living room I always have a towel on my lap for when she jumps up. And when I’m laying in the bed I make sure I have the blanket over me.
      But it’s odd because the male cat doesn’t do it.

  2. I have a beautiful two year old Savannah Cat who likes to knead. He was diagnosed with feline leukemia when he was a kitten and isolated for six months as to prevent my other cat from acquiring the virus. Since then, with many tests performed, he has aborted the virus. He’s happy and healthy and a wonderful addition to the family. He kneads and purrs like crazy and I love it. Cat purring is healing to cats as well as humans, btw. I never stop him from doing so even though he’s totally ruined a comforter and working on a sofa pillow now because I think this kneading behavior has helped him to not only overcome a potentially deadly virus, but keeps his immune system strong.

    1. My cat kneads on command. Its adorable. We started singing *one two one two* as it appears she is marching and now if we say *one two one two*, and she is near anything plush she just goes to town!

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  5. It’s amazing how kittenhood memories can affect a cat’s behavior for the rest of their lives, how evolution had shaped cats’ emotions and lifestyle up to this day.

    Which is why they hiss and flatten their ears like snakes, and why they like to hunt, and sleep in high places. When you look at your domestic cat, so elegant and removed from wildcats, you can see the tiger, the lion. They still have these ancient instincts in their physical and psychological genetic makeup.

    My cats have left a dead bird on the outside of the shutters. When I discovered it, the worms crawled all over it, and the blood was dried. It smelled awful. But then, I have feral cats adopted off the streets.

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  10. All my cats are fixed and they all knead. My take is … we pet them and they see it as kneading. They pet us by kneading us.

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  13. Hi!

    I have a beautiful black male cat that loves to make biscuits. He got neutered over 3 years ago. The problem that I have is when he does knead he rubs his private parts on me thigh to the point of ejaculating. The smell is beyond discussing! I tried just about every thing and I can’t make him stop. I don’t have a problem with the kneading part is just the other part of it. What can I do?

    1. My 4 y.o. neutered boy doesn’t ejaculate but he does get an erection, drips seminal fluid, and then licks his erection. His vet was quite surprised to hear of this and had no advice. I set out a couple of soft fleece throws to entice him away from my bedding. If he does start doing it on me, I take him over to his throw, distract him, or gently nudge him until he quits. I don’t like to do that because he is happy but it gets quite gross. He seems to be doing it less as he’s got older so that’s better.

    2. I have a 10-year-old neutered male cat who has done the same thing since I adopted him at 1.5 years old. Yes, this behavior can be disconcerting, but it’s a natural behavior and something they can’t be “trained out of.” Cats are gonna cat.

      I chose to redirect his behavior; I bought one of those PillowPet stuffed animal/pillow children’s toys to be his “girlfriend.” Every time my cat began his kneading/rubbing his bits routine, I gently picked him up and set him onto his panda PillowPet, and he got the idea very quickly. He is now perfectly content to confine his, um, romantic encounters to his girlfriend Panda. Panda stays on the floor in the bedroom and gets a spa day in the washing machine when needed.

      It’s still kind of gross, but it’s also funny… and he’s happy, which is the most important thing.

      1. Perhaps you should get him a real cat companion? It’s nice for cats to have a friend anyway. When you are out, they he would have compsny.

        1. Declawing your cat should never be the answer!!!
          I hope that your cat remains safely indoors at all times, if he or she were ever to get outside without claws, your cat would be far more vulnerable to predators and abusers as the claws are a cats first line of defence.
          Nearly two dozen countries—including Australia, England, and Japan—ban or severely restrict declawing surgeries. And many MANY VETERINARIANS AROUND THE WORLD REFUSE TO PERFORM THE PROCEDURE.
          Our toes are crucial to our balance, and it’s no different for cats! Because of impaired balance after the procedure, declawed cats have to relearn how to walk, much as a person would after losing his or her toes.
          If performed on a human being, declawing would be like cutting off each finger at the knuckle.

    3. My cat does the same thing but is not fixed! Like an everyday thing could there be something wrong or is it basically normal?

    1. Hi Avery,
      Every cat is different and cat kneading is different for every cat, too. You can ask your vet if you’re concerned and you can also check out these additional articles on cat kneading:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cats-kneading
      https://www.catster.com/cat-behavior/cats-making-biscuits-all-about-cat-kneading
      https://www.catster.com/cat-behavior/cat-nursing-on-herself-blankets-or-other-objects-should-you-worry
      https://www.catster.com/cat-behavior/why-do-cats-suck-on-blankets
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-behavior-suckling

  14. I’m used to being kneaded but my boyfriend hates it, so I put a couple of those plushy micro fleece blankets on the sofa and in some other spots I like to sit and pet my cats. They LOVE them and I have almost successfully trained them to knead only those blankets and not my boyfriend, lol.

  15. Elizabeth Adrian

    My cat does it to me all the time at first it was super cute and I felt beyond loved but now it hurts really bad. She wakes me up at 1, 2 , 3 ,4 am I get no sleep at all because she knead all throughout the night. It would be fine if she doesnt hurt me but her claws are super sharp I feel like if I trim them it would still hurt. I wont ever de claw her but I have ugly dark circle for never sleeping :(

    1. well, this comment looks rather recent
      you can get these things called kitty clips or w/e
      they’re covers that glue onto your cats nails
      or you can get one of those grindy wheels, which are about 20 dollars at most pet stores (some dollar stores even have a cheap version for people)

    2. Irene Sonjia Likun

      when I got my kitten, I decided to make my bedroom out of bounds so I could get some sleep. I shut the door at bedtime and she has the run of the apt. through the nite..still doing it and we both have a good night..she does knead her thick blanket on the couch before her naps..

  16. I live with two cats, a domestic moggie and a Burmese (rescue cats). The Burmese has decided his nightly ritual is to knead my feet and legs into dough whilst purring and growling. The moggie, who thinks he is top cat, sits virtually by his side, glaring at him, all menace and aggression, waiting to chase him off the bed… night times are such fun… sometimes they both end up on the bed, one at the top, one at the foot, or else both on the bedroom floor, creating a disaster for someone getting up in the night who doesn’t have night vision… would I be without them? No!!

  17. My Tripod was born with only a right foreleg, so she of course had her own way of “making kitty bread”. Another cat I had, Cleo, whenever I wore my terrycloth robe, he would latch onto that and knead and purr contentedly.

  18. Barbara Hansen

    My cat kneads on me a lot of the time. I read quite some time ago that they do it to the person they consider their mother figure but don’t know how accurate that is.

  19. Please don’t declaw, it is cruel and unnecessary, I taught my kittens to use their scratching post in just 1 day, they don’t touch furniture, they don’t scratch me, and they don’t bite or show aggression because they have been robbed of their claws through a terribly painful surgical procedure that removes the top knuckle of their paw digits. Vets do it for the $$ and claim it’s not a big deal, when it is. A scratching post costs $40 and a little effort is priceless, your cat will be well adjusted and happy if you let them keep their claws.

    1. I totally Agree!…never de-claw! If you feel you will, just don’t get a Cat, because evidently a Cat is not what you really want, …Cat’s claws are as much a part of her/his body as your hands are to you.

      Also, to de-claw is the same like a doctor surgically removing a major part of each of your fingers and its painful, also you’ve removed the Cat’s ability to defend itself if its ever outside or comes into the presence of any other animals that trys to hurt the cat, including a rat! Many Cats for rest of their life after de-clawing have mental problems because, of course, they know this very important part of themselves have been removed in addition to the ongoing pain after surgery.

      1. Oh, I adopted a cat few months ago who is 10 yrs. old. She had her claws removed in both front feet. The back feet do have claws but not developed. I’m a retired RN, I immediately had the need to adopt her. She was fearful when I got her for at least a month, staying hidden most of the day, only appearing when hungry. I talk to her every day, finally she’s making progress with trust issues. This poor girl has an unnessary disability. Many things like jumping on my bed she’s unable to do without falling. I feel like a physical therapist, everyday I work with her to try to use her deformed front paws which have become flaccid from non use. Of course she has no confidence in herself, if only folks would educate themselves before electing to have this surgery for their cats, its barbaric.
        This is the 1st. cat I’ve owned and I love her. She has educated me, I knew when I adopted her she would have problems. However, I certainly didn’t realize the extent of the problem declawing would bring..Please spread the word declawing, is more than physical, lasting for the cat’s life. You’re taking a healthy animal from health to disability.

  20. Our youngest boy Simba has just turned 1 & is a highly affectionate little fluff ball to the point that we can wake up to a cold wet little cat nose in the morning pressed to our noses or cheeks He even places his paws on our cheeks when picked up & hugged like a small child does
    I’m wondering if this goes hand in hand with his habitual kneading?????
    We have affectionately nick named him the baker as he will knead a “resting spot” for at least 10 mins before settling
    He will knead us as well but I notice he doesn’t use his claws on us as if he knows it might hurt but still does the actions
    wondering if the kneading is a form of trust and affection towards us when he does this as he never uses claws & this action seems to be closely linked with his affectionate behaviour

    1. Michaela Conlon

      Hi there Jodi,

      Thanks for reaching out! Here is an article that provides more information on how cats show affection:

      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-behavior-cat-affection-signs

  21. Our Cat “The Doctor” does this every night, every morning and sometimes even at night… sleeps next to our head with his little paws on the pillow or even holding hands/paws… 20 minutes is no problem with drool and that hypnotic trance stare… we trim claws every 2 weeks and he insists that he will only do it on exposed flesh… skin… not an issue though and it rarely hurts as he has adjusted his approach to little or no claw exposed… we would not let him do it long before since he extended the claws.. guess he got the hint… hahahaha… it is so sweet and he is a very affectionate cat… our other cat is equally sweet and affectionate but only makes cookies in the air when he gets petted, but never on us… lol

  22. My orange boy kneeds my chest area and sucks on my tee shirt…. he purrs purrs purrs…. like a baby!! I love it and love him!!!

  23. Felines knead for several reasons. Kittens do it to stimulate mom’s milk when nursing. Felines any age will knead to make a nest for napping or to give birth. Adult felines use it as foreplay. There are femone glands on the back of the pads on their piggies. They will mark their territory as ‘theirs.’ (& that includes you, as well.)

  24. ginger orange tabby cat

    my cat ginger loves kneading.. i think they knead to make the place more comfartable.. like how we punch up our pillows

  25. My cat kneeds me at night in bed then goes to sleep..then in the morning and sleep so again …my cat follows me where ever I go…comes with me in the morning to get the paper. The home again.. awesome little fellow..

    1. Hi there — You’re right. This was an older article that we recently republished. We’ve just updated the information. Thank you for letting us know!

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