Reviewed and updated for accuracy on January 23, 2020, by Dr. Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB
At some point, you’ve probably caught your cat kneading—rhythmically pushing their paws in and out against a soft object, which could be a blanket or even your lap. It’s also referred to as “making biscuits” because the action is like kneading dough.
While not all cats knead, it’s a common behavior for young and adult felines alike. Some cats knead and purr contentedly when they’re being petted, but they may also seem to do it for no clear reason. Cats even have their own techniques—some never use their claws when they knead, and some use all four paws.
There are a few different ideas out there as to why cats “make biscuits.”
Here are some of the more popular theories for why cats knead their owners and certain objects.
Why Cats Knead Blankets and Other Soft Objects
Cats start to knead as kittens while nursing from their mother. A nursing kitten instinctually kneads to help stimulate the mother’s milk production. But why do they continue to knead past nursing age?
You might find your cat kneading blankets, stuffed animals, or other soft objects around the house. Even though kneading a soft surface doesn’t yield milk, adult cats forever associate the motion of kneading with the rewarding comfort of nursing.
Why Cats Knead Their Owners
What if your cat likes to knead people—namely, you? If your cat is curled up and kneading your lap while you’re petting him, he’s returning the affection and telling you he loves you right back.
Unfortunately, this can be quite painful, since the happier he is, the harder he’ll dig in with his sharp nails. Never punish your cat for this behavior—he doesn't realize it hurts.
Try placing a thick, soft barrier between your cat and your lap. To better ensure the comfort of both you and your cat, make a habit of keeping your cat's nails trimmed with nail clippers, or invest in nail guards to cover your cat's nails.
Kneading to Stretch Their Muscles
Cats are natural yoga masters and love to work out all the kinks left over from napping. Think about it—if you have sore shoulders, it feels good to grab onto a surface and pull against it. Kneading their paws is one of the many ways cats keep themselves limber until the next nap.
Kneading to Mark What’s Theirs
Cats are territorial creatures, and one of the ways they safeguard their turf is to scent-mark their belongings. By kneading their paws on the surface of something (yes, including you), they’re activating the scent glands in their soft paw pads, thereby marking that item as theirs.
Kneading for Possible Mates
Female cats have an additional reason for kneading. They may purr, stretch, and knead the air while lying on their side to tell male cats that they can approach for possible mating.
However, if they are immediately ready to mate, they will not knead their paws and will instead raise their pelvis with the tail to one side.
While these are some of the more popular theories for why cats are thought to knead, it certainly doesn’t provide all of the possible reasons.
Whether your cat is making biscuits to show you affection or to claim you as their own, kneading is a natural, instinctual, and common cat behavior.
Featured Image: iStock.com/NitikornIstock