If you're a cat owner, you are likely familiar with the feline habit known as kneading. It's also sometimes referred to as "making biscuits," because of the visual similarities to a baker prepping bread dough. If you aren't a cat lover, you might be wondering: What is cat kneading?
Basically, kneading is when cats use their paws to push down on something in a repetitive movement — for anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes — that's usually soft, like a blanket, pile of clothes, or sometimes even humans. It's seriously one of the cutest things to witness (as long as their nails are properly clipped). Some felines purr during the act, while others simply look up at you if you're in the room as they do it. So, why do cats knead? And is this a normal cat behavior? Ahead, veterinarians answer these questions and more.
Why do cats knead?
"When cats knead, they stretch out their paws and make the sweetest movements by pressing their paws gently onto something, such as blankets, surfaces, or even your lap," explains Iram Sharma, veterinarian and writer for Happy Whisker. "When you notice that your cat is kneading, it means that the kitty is happy and satisfied, especially if it’s followed by purring."
Reasons Why Cats Knead
"Cats have sweat glands in their paws, so kneading marks their territory, spreads pheromones, sharpens and cleans their claws, and expresses affection, relaxation, and satisfaction," says Dr. Chinonyerem Ukweni, pet owner, animal lover, and veterinarian with Pet Parking. "Kneading on blankets, cushions, and furniture is a hardwired evolutionary trait of felines from their time in the wild, trying to make their nest comfortable, sharpen their claws, or clean their nails after hunting." As domesticated pets, kneading is also a way to imprint and express affection and satisfaction.
Though rare, some cats may knead aggressively as a defense mechanism, Dr. Ukweni adds. "If your cat is not being defensive, kneading is characterized by subtle alternating forward and backward forelimb motions exposing their claws and grasping, accompanied by loud or silent purring and stretches, which relaxes them into sleeping."
Essentially, there are several reasons why your cat might be kneading, according to our experts. Here are the top six reasons why cats knead:
Because they're relaxed, happy, or satisfied.
To mark their territory and spread pheromones through the sweat glands in their paws.
As preparation before they go to sleep.
To stretch or exercise their limbs.
To comfort themselves.
To show they are ready to mate (for female cats who are not spayed).
Is cat kneading normal?
If you see a cat kneading, don't worry at all. In short, the behavior is totally normal, and almost all cats knead, according to experts.
"This behavior is very interesting as it derives from newborn kittens," Sharma points out. "Kneading behavior is how kittens survive. They need their mother's milk to provide them with the necessary nutrients so that they can survive. So, when newborn kittens nurse, they knead on their mother cat and cause her to produce the 'happiness hormone,' which is called oxytocin. This hormone helps the mother cat to produce milk and nurse its [babies]."
Unsocialized cats may knead privately, according to Dr. Ukweni, and kneading behavior can also depend on the age of neutering. "Hungry and maltreated animals are also less likely to knead owners," she says.
What does it mean when cats knead on you?
If a cat kneads on you, consider it an honor. Be flattered! "Cats knead when they’re satisfied and content, [so] when they choose to knead on you, you should know that you’re very special to them," Sharma points out.
Cats will sometimes knead on their cat moms and dads to show their love and affection. It also means they feel safe with you. "Another reason why your cat kneads on you is probably that it feels needy and therefore wants your attention and cuddles," adds Sharma.
Why do cats knead on blankets?
"Cats usually display kneading behavior before they go to sleep as a sign that they’re calm and secure," Sharma points out. "Therefore, if a cat plans to sleep on its (or your) blanket, she’ll definitely knead before snuggling in a ball."
I've seen my own cats do this. Almost always at bedtime, my one cat who sleeps on my bed, will knead right in the area she has chosen as her sleeping spot. After she kneads for a couple of minutes, she flops herself down for her nightly slumber.
Why do cats knead before sleeping?
"Kneading is how cats actually comfort themselves. Therefore, some cats may knead before going to sleep in order to reduce stress and anxiety," Sharma explains. "So, kneading behavior makes them feel better, safe, and calm." It helps them fall asleep, as deep breaths can sometimes help us humans.
What if my cat doesn't knead?
If your cat doesn't knead at all, that is OK too. It's also normal for your cat not to knead. Sharma explains that the reasons for this can vary:
It's possible the cat never learned how to knead. "This usually happens when kittens are taken away from their mother cat as soon as they’re born, or if the mother cat dies," explains Sharma. "They don’t really have the chance to develop that behavior." Or, maybe the cat just doesn’t feel like kneading.
However, it could also mean the following:
The cat is stressed due to certain changes in its routine.
The cat suffers from separation anxiety.
The cat is in pain due to certain health issues.
If you are concerned that your cat is not kneading — especially if you see other signs that worry you — consult your vet and take your cat in for a visit.
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