Most often kneading is referred to as “making biscuits” because a cat resembles a person making biscuit dough when it kneads. The action is both adorable and cute but why does a cat find it necessary to knead?
The Mechanics of Kneading
Definitely a feline behavior, kneading is a common cat action, although not all cats knead. While kneading, the cat pushes in and out with their paws, sometimes with claws in or out, and other times they’ll push in and extend their claws and pull back and retract. Usually cats will alternate their left and right paws as they knead.
A cats kneading is usually done on soft cushiony surfaces like a pillow or comforter and even sometimes on your lap! Ouch! When your cat is kneading you, he is informing you that he’s happy and he loves you. Unfortunately, the more happy he is the harder he’ll knead! This could hurt! Try placing a towel between you and your cat for a more pleasant experience.
It’s All Instinct
The explanations for kneading are many but most agree it is an instinctual trait present even in newborn kittens who knead at their mother’s belly while they nurse (the action is thought to stimulate the mother’s nipples and make the milk flow freely).
You’ll notice when a cat is ready to sleep, the kneading begins. This may have come from the time when a wild cat patted down grass or leaves in order to make a bed. Again this was a natural behavior which is part of the cat’s instinct and something nearly all cats do before settling down for a catnap!
Cat Stretch Fever
After a long nap, a cat likes to stretch. Like an ancient yoga master the cat will twist and turn and sometimes knead. The kneading seems to put the cat into a trance like state as the cat purrs and relaxes to the rhythms of its kneading. Think about it. Before or after exercise we have to limber up to rid ourselves of soreness and tension. Perhaps we should be kneading too!
Kneading for Territory
Did you know that cats have scent glands on the bottom of their paws? Well, it’s true! The soft pads on the bottoms of their paws release a scent unique to each cat when they knead. This scent is released into the surface and it serves as a territorial marker which tells unfamiliar cats to stay away! This is my turf, dude!
Trim Them Claws!
Frequent kneading of the carpets, the bedding, or of your lap can mean pulls in material and scratches on you so it may be a good idea to keep your cat’s claws trimmed. It is relatively easy to trim a bit of the sharp, curved portion of the claw off with a regular nail clipper or you can purchase a nail filer off the internet or the pet store. Just be sure you don’t cut far down into the “quick” where all the nerves and blood vessels are located. If you’re not comfortable doing this your vet will surely oblige. Note that I said trim, not remove. I don’t recommend declawing a cat for any reason because it’s inhumane and it leaves your cat virtually defenseless!
I Don’t Need That Kneading!
If the kneading is bothersome to you or uncomfortable, there are tricks you can try to make your cat stop.
Try pulling your cat down into a lying position to make him settle down and go to sleep. You can also try gently holding his front paws together or petting him or distract him with a toy or treat. Keep in mind, however, that kneading is a natural behavior and a cat should not be punished for doing it.
A female cat will sometimes knead when she is trying to tell her male partner that it’s time to mate and she’s ready! Of course if that doesn’t work, as the estrus cycle continues, the female will begin meowing and yowling to get the male’s attention! You may also notice her pace and mark the area of the house with her urine. She may also become rather affectionate and may assume the mating position with her head down and her butt up when you pet her. If you want to eliminate these symptoms there is one solution – you may need to get your cat spayed!
By Tom Matteo
About the Author
Tom Matteo has been a freelance writer since 1992. He has written hardware and software reviews for computers and gaming systems, and now writes about animal behavior and care. Tom resides in Bethlehem, PA with his wife, Tina, and their beloved cockapoo, Angel.