Why Do Cats Knead?


Kneading is a common behavior in cats that involves pushing their paws in and out against a soft surface, such as a blanket, pillow, or even a person's lap. This behavior is also known as "making biscuits" or "marching." While it may seem like a harmless and cute behavior, it can be quite painful for the person or animal being kneaded, especially if the cat's claws are not trimmed.

Why Do Cats Knead?

The instinctive behavior of kneading

Kneading is an instinctive behavior that starts when a kitten is nursing from its mother. The kitten will push its paws against the mother's mammary glands to stimulate milk production. This behavior is thought to be comforting for the kitten and helps to establish a bond between the mother and her offspring.

Importance of understanding the reasons behind kneading

It is important to understand the reasons behind kneading to prevent any misunderstanding or discomfort caused by this behavior. Understanding why cats knead can help owners provide appropriate surfaces for their cats to knead and also prevent any unintentional harm caused by the cat's sharp claws.

Understanding Kneading

What is kneading?

Kneading is a rhythmic pushing and pulling motion made with the front paws, where the cat alternates between flexing and extending its claws while pushing its paws in and out against a soft surface.

Different methods of kneading

There are different methods of kneading, and each cat may have its preferred method. Some cats may knead with their claws fully extended, while others may only use the pads of their paws. Some cats may knead with both their front and back paws, while others may only use their front paws.

When do cats knead?

Cats may knead at any time, but they are most likely to knead when they are feeling relaxed, content, or happy. Cats may also knead as a way of marking their territory, as they have scent glands in their paws that release pheromones when they knead. Additionally, some cats may knead when they are feeling anxious or stressed as a way of self-soothing.

Evolutionary Background

Kneading behavior has been observed in both domestic and wild cats, indicating that it has an evolutionary origin. Wildcats, the ancestors of domestic cats, are also known to knead, and it is believed that the behavior may have originated as a way to soften and shape their sleeping areas.

Kneading in Wildcats

In the wild, kneading behavior has been observed in several species of wildcats, including the African Wildcat and the Sand Cat. In these species, kneading behavior is thought to serve a similar purpose as in domestic cats, such as stimulating milk production in nursing mothers or softening the ground for sleeping.

How Domestication Affected Kneading Behavior

The domestication of cats has likely influenced their kneading behavior. While wildcats may knead primarily for functional reasons, domestic cats may also knead for psychological and emotional reasons.

Psychological and Emotional Reasons

Comfort-Seeking Behavior

Kneading may be a comfort-seeking behavior for cats, as the rhythmic motion can be soothing and reminiscent of the sensation of nursing from their mother. This behavior may be particularly comforting for cats when they are feeling anxious or stressed.

Marking Their Territory

Cats have scent glands in their paws, and when they knead, they release pheromones that mark their territory. This behavior may be particularly important for cats in multi-cat households or in the wild, where they need to establish and maintain their territory.

Self-Soothing and Stress Relief

Kneading may be a way for cats to self-soothe and relieve stress. The rhythmic motion and pressure on their paws can have a calming effect on cats and may help them relax when they are feeling anxious or tense.

Bonding and Showing Affection

Cats may also knead as a way of bonding with their owners or other cats. Kneading can be a sign of affection and may be accompanied by purring or other vocalizations. Some cats may also knead while they are being petted, as a way of expressing their enjoyment and appreciation.

Physical Reasons

Kneading behavior may also serve physical purposes for cats, including:

Strengthening Muscles

Kneading requires the use of several muscles in a cat's paws, legs, and shoulders. Regular kneading may help to strengthen these muscles and improve a cat's overall mobility.

Stimulating Circulation

The pushing and pulling motion of kneading can help to stimulate circulation in a cat's paws and limbs, which may promote overall health and wellbeing.

Maintaining Flexibility

Kneading may help to maintain flexibility in a cat's joints and muscles, which can be especially important for older cats or cats with arthritis.

Preparing for Nursing

In addition to nursing kittens, kneading may also be a way for female cats to prepare their mammary glands for milk production.

The Science Behind Kneading

The Role of Endorphins

Kneading behavior has been associated with the release of endorphins in cats. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that act as natural painkillers and can produce feelings of pleasure and contentment. The release of endorphins during kneading may explain why cats often seem relaxed and happy while engaging in this behavior.

Brain Chemistry and Kneading Behavior

Studies have shown that kneading behavior is associated with changes in brain chemistry in cats. Specifically, kneading behavior has been linked to increased levels of oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and social behavior, as well as decreased levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress.

Effects of Neutering/Spaying on Kneading

Neutering or spaying a cat may affect their kneading behavior. Some studies have suggested that neutered or spayed cats may be more likely to engage in kneading behavior, possibly due to hormonal changes that occur after the procedure. Additionally, neutering or spaying may affect the intensity of a cat's kneading behavior, as well as the surfaces they prefer to knead on.

Cultural Significance

Kneading behavior has also been noted in various cultures and traditions, as well as represented in art and literature. In addition, it has been referenced in popular culture.

Kneading in Different Cultures and Traditions

Kneading behavior has been noted in various cultures and traditions around the world. For example, in Japan, cats are often depicted as kneading on rice cakes or mochi, while in Turkey, kneading behavior is associated with good luck.

Representations of Kneading in Art and Literature

Kneading behavior has been represented in art and literature throughout history. For example, in Egyptian art, cats are often shown kneading on the laps of their owners. In modern literature, cats are often portrayed as kneading on blankets or pillows.

Pop Culture References to Kneading

Kneading behavior has also been referenced in popular culture, such as in cartoons and TV shows. For example, the famous cartoon character Garfield is often depicted kneading on his owner's lap.

Kneading in Different Breeds

Variations in Kneading Behavior Across Different Breeds

Kneading behavior can vary across different breeds of cats. Some breeds, such as the Siamese and Persian, are known to be more prone to kneading behavior, while other breeds, such as the Maine Coon, may be less likely to knead.

Kneading in Purebred vs. Mixed-Breed Cats

There is some evidence to suggest that purebred cats may be more likely to engage in kneading behavior than mixed-breed cats. This may be due to genetic factors that influence a cat's temperament and behavior.

The Influence of Genetics on Kneading

While the exact genetic factors that influence kneading behavior in cats are not yet fully understood, there is evidence to suggest that genetic factors play a role. For example, some breeds of cats may be more predisposed to kneading behavior due to their genetic makeup. Additionally, certain personality traits, such as affectionate behavior and high activity levels, may also be influenced by genetics and can influence a cat's likelihood to knead.

How to Encourage or Discourage Kneading

Positive Reinforcement Techniques

If you want to encourage your cat's kneading behavior, you can offer positive reinforcement by giving them treats or pets when they knead on appropriate surfaces. You can also provide your cat with soft blankets or towels that they can knead on.

Redirecting Kneading Behavior

If your cat is kneading on an inappropriate surface, such as your furniture, you can redirect their behavior by providing them with a suitable alternative, such as a scratching post or a soft blanket.

Discouraging Destructive Kneading

If your cat's kneading behavior is causing damage to your furniture or other objects, you can discourage this behavior by using deterrents such as double-sided tape or a motion-activated deterrent spray. You can also provide your cat with appropriate scratching surfaces and toys to redirect their energy.

Common Misconceptions about Kneading

Kneading is not a Sign of Aggression

Contrary to popular belief, kneading behavior is not a sign of aggression in cats. It is a natural and instinctual behavior that cats use to show affection and comfort.

Kneading is not Exclusively a Female Behavior

While female cats may be more likely to engage in kneading behavior due to their association with nursing, male cats can also engage in this behavior.

Kneading is not a Sign of a Cat being "Needy"

Kneading behavior is not necessarily a sign that your cat is needy or seeking attention. It is a natural behavior that cats engage in for a variety of reasons, including comfort, relaxation, and marking their territory.

How to Respond to Kneading Behavior

The best way to respond to your cat's kneading behavior is to provide them with a safe and comfortable environment to knead. You can provide them with a soft blanket or towel to knead on, or a scratching post if they prefer to knead on a vertical surface. You can also offer your cat positive reinforcement, such as pets or treats, when they engage in appropriate kneading behavior.

Providing a Safe and Comfortable Environment for Kneading

To provide your cat with a safe and comfortable environment for kneading, make sure they have access to soft surfaces and appropriate scratching surfaces. You can also provide them with a comfortable bed or cat tree to relax in.

Cat Kneading and Human Health

The Therapeutic Benefits of Cat Kneading

Cat kneading behavior can have therapeutic benefits for humans. The rhythmic motion of kneading can be soothing and calming, and the release of endorphins can have a positive effect on mood and stress levels. In addition, the act of petting a cat while they knead can provide a sense of comfort and relaxation.

Relationship between Cat Kneading and Mental Health

Research has shown that interactions with pets, including cats, can have a positive impact on mental health. The act of petting a cat while they knead can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, and can even lower blood pressure.

Health Concerns Associated with Cat Kneading

While cat kneading behavior is generally harmless, there are some health concerns to be aware of. Cats' claws can be sharp, and excessive kneading can cause skin irritation or even injury. In addition, some cats may ingest fabrics or other materials while kneading, which can lead to digestive problems or blockages. If you notice any unusual behavior or symptoms in your cat, it's important to consult with a veterinarian.

Kneading and Other Cat Behaviors

Kneading behavior is often associated with other feline behaviors, such as purring, grooming, and rubbing against surfaces. These behaviors are all part of a cat's natural instincts to mark their territory, show affection, and seek comfort.

The Role of Kneading in Play and Socialization

Kneading behavior can also play a role in play and socialization among cats. Kittens may knead on their mothers during nursing as a way to stimulate milk production and bond with their mother. Adult cats may knead on each other as a way to show affection and establish social bonds.

The Future of Kneading Research

Current Research on Kneading Behavior

While there has been some research on cat kneading behavior, there is still much to be learned about the reasons behind this behavior and its effects on cats and humans. Some current research has explored the role of endorphins in kneading behavior, the relationship between kneading and social bonding, and the therapeutic benefits of cat kneading for humans.

Areas for Future Research and Investigation

Future research on cat kneading behavior could explore the genetic and environmental factors that influence this behavior, as well as its potential health benefits and risks. There is also an opportunity to study the impact of cat kneading on human mental health and well-being, and to explore new ways to incorporate cat-human interactions into therapy and wellness programs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Why do cats knead on soft surfaces?

Cats knead on soft surfaces as a natural instinct to mark their territory, seek comfort, and prepare for nursing. Kneading behavior is often associated with feelings of contentment and relaxation.

Q. Why do some cats drool while kneading?

Drooling during kneading is a common behavior that some cats exhibit when they are feeling particularly relaxed and comfortable.

Q. Is kneading always a sign of contentment?

While kneading behavior is often associated with contentment and relaxation, cats may also knead as a way to self-soothe during times of stress or anxiety.

Q. Can kneading cause injury to cats or humans?

Kneading behavior is generally harmless to both cats and humans, but it is important to ensure that cats are not kneading on surfaces that may cause injury or irritation.

Q. How can I tell if my cat is kneading or scratching?

Kneading behavior involves rhythmic pushing and pulling of the paws against a soft surface, while scratching involves sharp, quick movements of the claws against a surface. 


The multifaceted nature of kneading behavior highlights the importance of understanding and appreciating feline behaviors. While kneading behavior can have physical, psychological, and social benefits for cats and humans, it is important to recognize that each cat is unique in its behavior and preferences. By providing a safe and comfortable environment for cats to knead, and by responding to their behavior with positive reinforcement, humans can strengthen their bond with their feline companions and promote their overall health and well-being.

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