Why Do Cats Knead?

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Why cats knead may be a head-scratcher to some pet owners, but seasoned cat lovers know an age-old motion when they see one. This instinctive activity dates back to birth for this fluffy animal, and cat kneading continues to be important as your kitten becomes an adult.

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Cats making biscuits isn't really what's going on when a cat presses down on a soft surface (or your thigh!). As you learn about cat kneading and why it happens, it's also a good idea to pick up on a few ways to curb the habit too if only to protect your couch upholstery and your own skin. The best ways to ease the kneading at home is with consistent redirection along with praise, treats, and fun toys to distract.

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Why do cats knead?

Why cats knead isn't known for sure, but there are several theories related to how a cat grows and develops and makes herself comfortable. If you spy a cat kneading, it could be due to the following:

  • She's remembering her nursing days:​ One kneading theory has to do with kittens pressing down on their mother while they suckled. If your cat kneads, she could be recalling her youth.

  • She's showing love:​ Cats often knead to show their owners kindness and affection.

  • She's trying to relax:​ Cats do feel stress sometimes, and kneading can be calming.

  • She's creating a nest:​ Pawing and pressing on the ground or carpet could be a cat's way of making a cozy nest for her nap, much like dogs circle (and circle) before they settle down.

  • She's marking her spot:​ Kneading could also be a way of claiming certain territory, as cat paws contain scent glands.

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What happens when cats knead?

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When a cat is getting ready to knead, he may arch his back slightly as he bears down with both paws on a soft surface, such as the bedspread, sofa cushion, or his own bed. Your cat may even leap into your lap and knead your legs, which can be painful since his claws are out when he does it. Cat kneading is a happy action, but it's not a silent one; you can expect to hear some purring as he works his paws up and down. The kneading action is soothing and relaxing to cats, causing some to conk out for a short snooze during the process, which is super sweet to see.

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How to stop cat kneading

Cat kneading can be a bit destructive since your kitty's claws are pressing into fabric and other soft material, resulting in loose threads, holes, and tears. Kneading could also bother a pet dog in the house or the kids if they're trying to hold the cat. While you shouldn't scold your kitty when she's kneading, you can work to curb the activity and encourage it in other areas.

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One way to limit the destruction that a cat's kneading can do is to keep her nails trimmed short. You might also check out special sprays on the market to focus your kitty's efforts away from your settee and to her own blanket.

Image Credit: SilviaJansen/iStock/GettyImages

Consider a special pad made just for kneading that you can keep nearby when your cat is poised to begin. If she starts to knead in the wrong spot, gently remove her and offer a toy or treat by way of distraction. Whatever you do, don't punish your cat for kneading. This tendency is a natural feline habit that your pet can't help. Instead, keep redirecting her and rewarding her with tasty treats and toys.

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