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Why Do Cats Knead?

6 Reasons Cats Knead | BetterVet

Many cat owners will be familiar with the feline activity of kneading, more affectionately known as "making biscuits." It involves the kitty rhythmically moving their front limbs alternatively and can look as if they’re kneading dough, hence the term. This can often be directed onto a soft blanket or their pet parent's chest and may be accompanied by a contented, happy purring sound. It gives us the feeling that our cat is content and happy, but what does it mean? Why do cats knead, and what does it mean if they don’t? We’ll discuss everything you need to know.

What is Kneading?

Kneading is a rhythmic movement of a cat’s front limbs, almost as if they’re prancing or kneading dough. They extend each front limb alternatively and then retract them back while extending the alternate limb. Their claws may also be extended during kneading, and they may purr. They normally do this with the two front feet, but sometimes they do it with all four feet.

Kneading is a behavior acquired from kittenhood, as kittens knead their mother’s belly while feeding. This kneading behavior would have encouraged the release of maternal oxytocin and increased the milk supply, therefore supplying the kitten with a positive association of kneading. Simply put, kneading = more milk.

Why Do Cats Knead?

As we know already, kittens knead to release more milk when feeding, and they have a positive association with kneading as they’re rewarded. Adults may have a similar positive association and knead when they’re feeling relaxed and happy. It may act as a soothing mechanism, and cats may also nibble or suck fabric when they’re kneading against a soft blanket. There are other reasons that cats knead, and there are also some behaviors that may be confused with kneading. We’ll summarize the main reasons for kneading behavior below.

Common Reasons for Kneading Behavior

  1. Kittens Nursing – kittens that are fed from their mother will knead to increase the milk supply (through stimulation of oxytocin).
  2. Happiness and Contentment – cats that are relaxed and content may knead. They may also do this if they’re being affectionate towards their pet parent.
  3. Marking – when some cats knead, they may scratch their nails on the floor too. This can be a mixture of kneading and scratching behavior. When cats scratch the ground, they’re visually marking the area and also scent marking. Scent marking involves depositing pheromones (chemical messages) around their environment. It makes them feel more secure in their home and also warns off other cats.
  4. Stretching – some cats knead in a standing upright position while others really stretch out their front legs and body. It may be that some cats do this as a way of stretching out, especially after sleeping or resting.
  5. Nesting behavior – some cats may start to arrange their bedding and show nesting behavior. They may knead while doing this.
  6. Mating – cats may show kneading behavior while raising their tail and back during the mating season.

Do All Cats Knead?

Now that we know the reasons for kneading, you may be watching your cat more closely. What if they don’t knead? It can be normal for some cats to knead very little. Every cat is an individual, and some may knead a lot while others rarely do. However, there are things to watch out for if your cat isn’t kneading.

First of all, it may be that you’re not noticing your cat kneading or they may do it during the night while you’re asleep. Another reason is that your cat has a medical condition preventing them from kneading. Cats that suffer from arthritis or painful nail conditions aren’t likely to knead as the physical movements would be too painful to perform.

Cats that don’t knead at all may suffer from overgrown nails so be sure to check this regularly. As cats get older and particularly cats that suffer from arthritis, their nails can become overgrown and even embed into their pads. They should have their nails trimmed regularly if they’re indoors. Outdoor cats need their nails to defend themselves and climb (provided they aren’t overgrown).

If you notice that your cat isn’t kneading, check in with your veterinarian, particularly if you’ve noticed other symptoms such as lameness, sleeping more, or difficulty jumping.

Can You Stop Your Cat From Kneading?

While it can be relaxing for some people to have a cat kneading on their chest, other people find their claws to be painful and uncomfortable. Kneading is a normal behavior for cats to display so we can’t (and shouldn’t) prevent it. However, there are some things that you can do to make this more comfortable for us humans.

If your cat is indoors only, you can cut the sharp tip of their nails to make them a bit blunter and less painful. You can also place a thick blanket on your lap/chest before your cat sits on you to create a barrier between you and your cat. If you’d prefer for your cat to knead elsewhere, you can try spraying a thick cozy blanket with Feliway spray. This spray contains pheromones which will make your cat feel more secure and they may prefer to knead on this as a result. You could also try catnip.

Provide plenty of scratching posts, vertical and horizontal, in your home, which will encourage your cat to scratch and prevent them from scratching elsewhere.

Conclusion

Kneading is something that is learned as kittens and carried into adulthood. Cats often do this behavior when they’re happy or feeling affectionate. Cats that don’t knead at all may be suffering from arthritis or painful nail conditions and should have a checkup with their veterinarian. Kneading varies between cats, with some cats kneading very regularly while others do it intermittently.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do cats knead on a blanket?

Cats knead on blankets to scent mark and they also do this when they’re relaxed. It acts as a soothing mechanism and is a sign of a happy cat.

Why do cats knead on you and purr?

Cats often knead and purr on their owners when they’re feeling relaxed and content. They may also be scent-marking their special people.

Why do cats knead blankets before lying down?

Cats may do this to scent mark their blankets, to show contentment, as a soothing mechanism, or as a nesting behavior as they’re getting comfortable.

Do cats knead when they love you?

Most cats knead when they’re happy and affectionate to their owners, so there’s no doubt that they love you.

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