No sooner have you snuggled down on the couch with your favorite fluffy blanket when another fluffy visitor arrives: your cat. Not content to simply join in the couch time, your cat immediately goes to work with their front paws, kneading away at the blanket. This probably isn’t the first time you’ve noticed your cat kneading, but have you ever wondered why your cat performs this ritual?
Why do cats knead blankets, your lap, or other soft surfaces? Kneading is an instinctive behavior for cats, most commonly used to express contentment and affection. Cats may also knead to mark their territory, prepare a spot for sleeping, or as a method of soothing. Read on to learn more about where your cat developed their “biscuit making” skills and why they keep on using them, especially on your blankets!
What Is Kneading?
The kneading behavior is commonly called “making biscuits,” and for good reason. As your cat methodically lifts their paws up and down, pressing their toes (and sometimes claws!) into your lap, they look similar to a contestant on a baking show preparing some fresh dough for the proving drawer.
Cats are born with the instinct to knead. Baby kittens perform the motion on their mother’s belly during nursing to help stimulate milk letdown. Most—but not all—adult cats continue the behavior into adulthood. Adult cats knead for several reasons, discussed in more detail below.
Cats Knead When They’re Content
You may notice that your cat often kneads—and possibly also drools—when you’re petting them. Kneading is one way that cats express contentment and love. Petting and chin-scratching is one way you show affection to your cat and kneading is their way of returning the favor. A happy cat is often a kneading, purring, drooling one!
Cats Knead To Mark Territory
By nature, cats are quite territorial. This is one reason many multi-cat households can be a bit chaotic and stressful for everyone! The primary method cats use to claim their territory is by scent marking.
Cats have scent glands in several spots on their body, including their paw pads. The kneading motion triggers those scent glands, meaning cats also use this behavior to mark their territory and claim their personal property.
So, while you might think that fluffy blanket your cat loves to knead is yours, rest assured your cat has a different idea!
Cats Knead To Make Their Beds
If it seems your cat often kneads just before settling in for yet another nap, that might not be a coincidence. It’s thought that the wild feline ancestors of modern house cats may have used a kneading motion to prepare a comfy spot for sleeping by trampling down grass and other vegetation. This instinct may still be present in modern cats, even if their beds are really soft enough already.
Cats Knead To Soothe Themselves
Reading a cat’s behavior isn’t always the easiest. Part of the reason for this is that some behaviors, like kneading, which signal contentment can also be displayed when your cat is stressed.
In a cat’s mind, kneading is most closely associated with the safety and contentment of their mother feeding them. Because of this, it makes sense that a frightened or stressed cat might knead to try and calm themselves down. If you notice your cat kneading at the vet’s office, it’s probably because they’re trying to relax.
Should You Ever Worry About Your Cat Kneading?
As we’ve shown, kneading is normal, instinctive behavior for many cats. Generally, you shouldn’t be concerned if your cat kneads, even if they do it a lot. Most of the time, they’re doing it for a positive, not concerning reason.
However, if your cat was never much of a kneader but suddenly starts doing it, be more suspicious that it could be a sign of stress, fear, or illness. Look for other signs that something is wrong. Has there been a big change in your family or household recently that could be stressing your cat? Is your cat showing physical symptoms like loss of appetite or lethargy?
If you are noticing other worrisome problems with your cat, consult your veterinarian. They can help you find out if there is a medical cause for your cat’s symptoms or refer you to a cat behavior expert if needed.
Anyone who’s shared their life with a cat knows each one comes with their fair share of quirks and personality styles. However, one of the most unique cat behaviors, making biscuits, is shared by almost all of them. Cats may be born with the instinct to knead but when and where they choose to do so is anybody’s guess! Keep your cat’s nails trimmed to make kneading less painful for you the next time your cat decides to show their love by making biscuits on your lap.