Cat kneading or “making biscuits” is a charming habit that many cat owners have witnessed. For all those who haven’t experienced this wonderful phenomenon, cat kneading occurs when a cat pushes back-and-forth, rhythmically with their front paws usually on soft, plush surfaces. Cats can knead on almost anything that’s soft and plush, such as a big sleepy husky!

This motion got its name from its uncanny resemblance to a baker kneading dough to make bread, or better yet biscuits! While cat kneading is a common trait, it can look different from cat to cat. Some accommodate kneading with purring and some knead with all four of their paws (a funny image when you think about it). A cat who kneads with all four paws shouldn’t be a concern as they might’ve come from a small litter where they had the spatial luxury of kneading with all four. Four-paw kneading cats can also come from bigger litters where they use all four to keep other kittens away when nursing. Nevertheless, it’s generally known that most cats just love making biscuits!

So why make biscuits? Surprisingly, there are various explanations to cat kneading. This is mainly because cat kneading may be explained on a case-by-case basis, and us humans can never truly know our cats thoughts! Keep reading to see which of these explanations fit best with your cat so you can get a better understanding of that furry little friend of yours! And stick towards the end for some tips on how to avoid some biscuit making mishaps!

A Piece from Childhood

kittens nursing from their mother

Do you have a childhood habit that you can’t seem to get rid of? Like biting your nails? Or playing with your hair? Well, cat kneading is kind of the same thing! When kittens are firstborn, they go to their mother for milk. Kittens knead the mother’s stomach in order to stimulate more milk for themselves! Even if the kittens are already weaned, this habit is carried into adulthood. Kittens who are nursed without their mother still tend to do this when you bottle feed them! To get a little technical, cat kneading can be seen as neotenic behavior – which is an adolescent trait retained in adulthood. In addition for it being a simple habit, cat kneading can also be seen as a nostalgic, comforting act as it reminds them of their mother. So what does this mean when cats knead on your tummy or lap?

I Love You!

Given that cat kneading can be connected to their love for their mother, it’s a huge compliment when cats knead on you. No, it’s not because they want milk from you (that’s not ideal to begin with). It’s because, at that moment, your cat feels happy and safe, much like they did with their mother. Cat kneading is similar to purring. When cats purr or knead, they are most likely in relaxed, soothing states. So if you catch your cat doing both, that’s double the compliment!

Marking Territory

Along with motherly love, cats knead to mark their territory. Within cat paws are scent glands that are released during the biscuit making process. If your cat kneads on you or their favorite blanket that they stole from you (not speaking from experience), they are sending a message to other cats saying, “Back off! This is mine!” Sometimes, you can catch this message if you spot your cat kneading more aggressively. A very bold message from just making biscuits, not gonna lie. But hey, cats are just possessive animals.

Back in the Day

Surprisingly, cat kneading dates way before childhood and instead to their ancestors. Who knew cat kneading was this deeply ingrained? Before they were domesticated, wild cats would knead or “nest” on big, tall piles of grass or leaves. Cats would nest to flatten and soften the pile for rest – much like how we fluff our pillows before sleeping! Cats would also do this for safety measures (they were smart even back then!). In other words, they would nest to check for any dangerous predators or prey that may be hiding under leaves. Maybe we, humans, should start checking under our own beds for predators too! In ancestral terms, it’s purely natural for domestic cats to “nest” before they get ready for bed.

cat stretching

A Good Ol’ Stretch

Many cat owners know cat naps are pretty much essential to a cat’s life. The action of cat kneading is very slow and gentle. It’s as if your cat is having its own yoga session! In other words, cat kneading could very much be considered as a cat stretching session. Cats are just so smart that they too know the importance of stretching. Cats stretch often to improve blood flow or to simply feel more relaxed. Cats can also be seen as a good reminder for you to stretch often as well (let’s be real, you sit in that desk all day huh?). Therefore, if you spot your cat kneading they could also be getting ready for a classic cat nap!

All the Single Ladies!

This next reason pertains to all those female cats out there. When a female cat is in oestrus, experts call that “going into heat” To let all the male cats know that a female cat is “going into heat”, she will knead and purr. According to PetMD, female cats do this to tell male cats that they can approach for possible mating. Cat kneading is just one out of many behaviors associated with oestrus. In fact, if a female cat is ready to mate, she may also purr, stretch, or raise her pelvis to one side. So if your female, adult cat starts kneading, she may be looking to mingle!

black cat playing on back

Ways to Avoid Painful Cat Kneading

As adoring as cat kneading may be, many cat owners can attest to the fact that it can hurt sometimes. In other words, it can be painful and bothersome if your sharp-clawed cat kneads on your stomach or rips up your crocheted blanket.

As we’ve learned, this is an ingrained habit for cats so you can’t try to stop them from making biscuits. They’re also showing affection towards you and punishing them for kneading may damage your precious relationship with your cat (and we definitely don’t want that to happen). Therefore, we can avoid these scratches from a simple solution: trim your cat’s claws. Trimming your cat’s claws not only prevents pain from kneading but also prevents any other scratching incidents that may happen. Claw trimming should be done meticulously, as you could injure your cat’s blood vessels from cutting too short. Some may consider declawing their cat entirely However, it’s highly dangerous and unrecommended due to the many behavior and health issues that can precede it. In other words, if you love your cat, disregard this option entirely (declawing is actually illegal in some countries like the UK, and many are following in pursuit). Regardless, trimming your cat’s claws is easy to incorporate in your everyday life. You don’t even need expensive tools to do so (cat trimming scissors from the dollar store are quite the deal!). The best time to cut your cat’s claws is when they are in relaxed, calm states, perhaps after a meal. I can tell you from experience it’s not a fun time cutting your cat’s claws when they want to play with you.

If you find yourself too busy to cut your cat’s claws on a daily basis (like me), it’s helpful to have a thick pillow, blanket, or towel around to act as a barrier between you and your cat kneading. Preferably, this pillow, blanket, or towel barrier should be made of a rather durable material or just one that can’t easily be ripped up. If you simply don’t have time for your cat to knead on you, you can gently carry and place them on their own designated bed or blanket. Soon enough, your cat will get the idea and resume their kneading there. You can also kindly stop them from kneading by distracting them – whether it’s rubbing their face or waving a toy at them, anything beats painful cat kneading! Even if there is no one, single reason behind cat kneading, it’s an intriguing habit that you can’t help but love. Cat kneading is definitely one of my personal favorite cat habits to watch! Speaking of love, cats can make biscuits to return all the love and affection back! And while it’s sometimes tough, scarring love, it’s important that we must adapt to our cat’s natural and ingrained habits. Therefore, remember that your cat never has bad intentions when they knead and that they are truly grateful for you!