Even if you don’t have cats, you’ve surely seen them open and close their paws as if they’re massaging something. It might be their bed, blanket, owner, favorite toy, or even the air around them. This is called kneading, more often referred to as “making biscuits.”
But why do cats make biscuits?
Why Do Cats Knead?
Most of the time, a cat making biscuits is a sign of comfort. However, there’s much more to it. So, if you’re a cat owner or simply a cat lover, here are a few things you should know about cat kneading.
Stretching their muscles
One of the simplest reasons for cats kneading dough is stretching. Cats are very agile animals that love to sleep a lot. Therefore, kneading helps them stretch their legs when they wake up.
Marking their territory
Cats are territorial animals, and their communication is often scent-guided. To mark their territory, they use scent glands in their cheeks, forehead, lips, flanks, tail, and paw pads. In other words, when cats knead, they’re marking that area as theirs.
This is why they may knead their blanket, favorite toys, a carpet, and even you.
Making their bed
Just like dogs turn in circles before lying down, cats may knead their bed. One theory is that this type of cat kneading behavior is inherited from their ancestors, who transitioned from forests to our hearts about 12,000 years ago.
They’d paw at piles of leaves or taller grass to create a soft bed — but also to ensure there’s nothing dangerous hiding underneath.
Recreating a memory
If you’ve ever noticed kittens kneading their mom while feeding, you could guess they do so to stimulate milk production. This is also when they feel the most comfortable, and one theory states that adult cat kneading may be a leftover habit from those early days.
Communicating with potential mates
This mainly occurs in female cats that aren’t spayed — they may knead the air, purr, and stretch to inform male cats that they’re in heat. They may also be more vocal than usual.
When it comes to male cats, kneading behavior is a part of a mating ritual, and they often use their back legs too.
Why Do Cats Knead on You?
To put it simply, cats knead on you because they love you, and this is just one way of showing affection. They feel comfortable with you, they trust you, and they’re marking you as theirs.
Unfortunately, sometimes, it can be painful when cats knead on you. Just keep in mind that you should never punish your cat for it. Instead, you can put a blanket over your lap or trim your cat’s nails.
When Is Kneading a Problem?
Even though seeing a cat baking biscuits is most often a positive thing, it can sometimes be a sign of an issue.
For example, anxious cats may develop obsessive kneading. Kneading releases pain-relieving chemicals, which is why, for some cats, making biscuits becomes a coping mechanism. This can happen if your cat’s environment or routine has changed.
This is also common for indoor-only cats that aren’t engaged enough, as they may become stressed due to boredom and confinement. After all, since the average lifespan of an indoor cat is 15 years, living in the same few rooms can get boring after a while.
In such cases, solutions include providing your cat with more toys, spending more time with it, and, if possible, getting another cat so they can keep each other entertained.
That being said, if you notice that your cat is making biscuits more than it used to, it may be a sign that it’s stressed or in pain. In this case, you should take your cat to the vet, as your cat might have a health issue you can’t see.
A routine physical checkup costs around $45–$55, and it can save you hundreds if there’s an issue and you catch it on time.
Why has my cat stopped kneading?
If your cat usually makes bread a lot and has recently stopped doing so, it may be due to a change in its routine or environment. However, if nothing significant has changed, it may be a sign of an illness or injury.
Why do cats knead on one owner but not another?
Usually, the answer is pretty simple — they like that specific person more. However, it may also be because the owner the cat is making biscuits on is their primary caretaker. This means that it’s more attached to that person.
Finally, it may also be because the owner doesn’t move a lot when the cat is baking in their lap.
Why does my cat knead so much?
Some cats may naturally knead more, while some may not knead at all. Some may massage you more after you come home from work because they’ve missed you. Kneading can also increase on softer materials.
However, some cats may make biscuits more often because they’re bored or anxious. If this is what you suspect, try enriching your cat’s environment and giving it more time to adjust.
How to stop my cat from kneading furniture?
If you want to stop your cat from kneading on a specific piece of furniture, you can try redirecting its attention with toys or treats.
You can also encourage your cat to knead elsewhere by providing it with soft blankets, pillows, or comfortable cat beds. Spraying those substitute options with scents that are pleasant to cats, like catnip, valerian root, or olive, can help solve your issue too.
Why is my cat kneading with its back legs?
Some cats use all four legs when kneading. One theory states that this is because they come from a smaller litter, so they had more room to spread.
However, sometimes, this may also develop as a means to keep other littermates away, and it’s common in bigger litters.
Moreover, if your cat is using its hind legs only, it usually means it’s preparing to pounce on something. This mostly happens during playtime and hunting.
As adorable as kneading can look, as you can see, it actually serves a purpose. While it’s usually a positive sign, in some contexts, it can also mean that you should get your cat checked. So, if you’ve ever wondered — why do cats knead? — now you know.