Why do cats knead?

Cats are renowned for their mysterious and often perplexing behaviours. It’s one of the many reasons we love them. And yet, a common, intriguing, and sometimes concerning tendency is for them to knead repeatedly. Also known as ‘pummelling’ or ‘making biscuits’, the act involves them continually trying to push with their paws against various surfaces, whether it's a soft blanket, your lap, or even the air itself.

But why do cats knead in the first place? What compels them to pummel with seemingly no motivation or inspiration?

Every furry friend is going to be different, but generally, when cats 'make biscuits', it’s really a mix of instinct, communication, and comfort-seeking. From the comforting memories of kittenhood to marking territory and showing affection, kneading is a multi-faceted behaviour that speaks volumes about a cat's feelings and instincts. For example, when cats push with their paws, they're not just engaging in a random act – they might actually be expressing any range of emotions and needs.

In this article, we’ll delve into the various reasons why cats knead, offering insights into this endearing feline quirk. They might knead their bed, a soft blanket, or your lap, but there's a fascinating reason behind those gentle paws at work.

Bright white cat paws on a yellow blanket.
Bright white cat paws on a yellow blanket.
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Discover why cats knead with their paws and what it says about how they are feeling.

What is Cat Kneading?

Cat kneading is a distinctive and rhythmic motion that cats regularly perform with their paws (the expression stems from mimicking the process of kneading dough). They will push their paws in and out, again and again, usually against a soft surface. It's a deeply ingrained action that starts from kittenhood and continues throughout a cat's life.

At its core, cats kneading will represent an emotional state or desire, blending instinct, comfort-seeking, and communication, providing a window into their wellbeing.

Why Do Cats Knead?

While we don’t know exactly why cats knead, we can have a pretty good guess. It is thought that cats exhibit kneading for various reasons, each deeply rooted in their instincts and emotional responses. They might be expressing contentment, preparing their sleeping area, marking their territory with scent glands in their paws, showing affection to their human companions, or even reverting to kitten-like behaviour associated with nursing and a self-soothing mechanism.

It’s a truly fascinating action with a slew of possible meanings. Let's explore some of the key reasons why cats knead.

Why Do Cats Knead and Purr Together?

When cats knead and purr simultaneously, you shouldn’t worry. It’s likely a sign of sheer contentment and relaxation, meaning you are providing them with a wonderfully happy, comfortable home. The combination is a throwback, of sorts, to their days as kittens, when kneading their mother’s belly stimulated milk flow. As adults, this action, accompanied by a soft, soothing purr, signifies they are in a state of blissful comfort, feeling safe and loved in their environment.

Why Do Cats Knead the Bed?

If you see your cat knead the bed you have made for them, we can trace the action back to their wild ancestors who would repeatedly knead to soften leaves, grass, or other natural bedding materials around them to create a comfortable sleeping area. For domestic cats, this instinctual behaviour persists, and kneading their bed or a favourite sleeping spot helps create a cosy and secure space for rest.

Why Do Cats Knead a Blanket?

Similarly, when cats knead a blanket, it creates a comfortable environment. Blankets provide a soft, pliable surface that responds well to kneading, offering sensory feedback that is pleasing to cats. The behaviour can also be a way for cats to "claim" a blanket as their own, as the scent glands in their paws leave a subtle but distinct mark on the blanket.

Why Do Cats Knead on Their Owners?

Cats won’t tell you they love you. At least, not in so many words. Instead, when cats knead you, this might be the most affectionate behaviour they can display. It’s a sign of trust and love. A show of their bond with their human. Something akin to a human hug. This is another behaviour that can also be a throwback to kittenhood, symbolising the comfort and security they felt with their mother.

When Kneading Could Be A Problem

While kneading is a normal and adorable behaviour in cats, there are times when it could indicate, or even lead to issues.

Below are some scenarios you need to be aware of where kneading might be a problem to ensure your cat's and your household's well-being.

Excessive Kneading: Signs of Stress or Anxiety

If your cat's kneading seems excessive or is accompanied by other signs of distress (like excessive meowing, restlessness, or changes in eating habits), it could be a sign of anxiety or stress. In such cases, try to identify and address the underlying cause or speak with your veterinarian.

Kneading with Extended Claws: Potential for Injury

When cats push with their paws and claws out, it can lead to unintentional scratches on human skin or damage to furniture and fabrics. Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed or providing a designated kneading blanket can help minimise these issues.

Kneading in Unwanted Areas: Disruptive Behaviour

Cats might knead on areas where this behaviour is unwelcome, like on delicate fabrics or on your lap when working. Redirect this behaviour to a more appropriate spot, like a cat bed or a sturdy blanket.


  • Is My Cat's Kneading Normal?

    Yes, kneading is a perfectly normal behaviour for cats. It's typically a sign of comfort, contentment, and instinctual behaviour inherited from their kittenhood. It only becomes a concern if there are drastic changes in the behaviour or any signs of distress accompany it.

  • Why Do Cats Push Things Off Tables?

    While not exactly the same as kneading, this is another (unfortunately) common feline behaviour. Cats may push things off tables out of mere curiosity, to grab attention, or simply as a form of play. It's part of their exploratory nature, underscoring the complexity and diversity of cat behaviours.

  • What Does Kneading Say About How Our Cats Are Feeling?

    Kneading can display a sense of contentment, especially when accompanied by purring. Cats may also knead when feeling affectionate, trying to mark their territory, or making themselves comfortable for rest. In some cases, excessive kneading can indicate anxiety or stress, so it's important to observe the context of the behaviour.

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