Kneading or “making biscuits” is just one example of weird cat behavior pet parents might wonder about. Rest assured, kneading is very normal, though some cats seem to enjoy it more than others. When cats are kneading they typically push against a surface with their front paws, alternating between left and right. It’s easy to see why ‘kneading’ and ‘making biscuits’ are the most common names for this action, though some people call it mashing potatoes, playing piano, or ‘happy paws’. While there’s no one definitive answer as to why cats knead, we’ll go over the strongest theories, as well as advice for managing your cat’s kneading behavior if you’re ever bothered by it.
What Does It Mean When Your Cat Kneads You?
Kneading is a common behavior in both male and female cats, and it’s believed to have positive connotations because cats often appear relaxed or even blissed out during a kneading session. Your cat might knead your thighs, stomach or chest while sitting on your lap or being petted. This can be your cat’s way of expressing affection and contentment, similar to how cats groom (lick) you in order to affirm and strengthen their bond.
Why Do Cats Knead the Bed or Blankets?
Kneading is often part of a pre-nap or pre-bedtime ritual for cats. One theory is that it’s an instinctive behavior passed down from their wild ancestors, who used their paws to tamp down tall grasses and make a more comfortable resting place. Kneading is also thought to be a self-soothing behavior, so your cat may knead soft surfaces before resting to help instill a sense of security before drifting off. Your cat may also knead after napping, which is likely done to stretch out their paws and legs before resuming activity.
Kneading to Mark Territory
Cats have scent glands in their paws that release pheromones when the paw stretches with the claws out. Since kneading involves a grasping action where the claws extend briefly, the theory is that kneading is one way cats mark their territory. A cat kneading a blanket or your body could be saying ‘this blanket is mine’ or ‘this human is part of my family’. Marking territory helps cats feel reassured that they’re safe and secure.
Kneading & Biting
Cats sometimes bite while kneading, which may be a carryover behavior from when they were kittens. Kittens knead and bite (without teeth) the mother cat when nursing, and it’s thought that these actions stimulate milk production. Adult cats don’t need to nurse, but they might still bite a blanket, you, or anything soft, warm, or squishy while kneading, because it makes them feel comforted and safe, as kittens feel when nursing.
Kneading & Purring
Cats commonly purr while kneading, which could be an expression of contentment or a self-soothing behavior. Cats are known to purr when happy, hungry, sick, or nervous. Observe your cat’s body language while they knead and purr: if their face and tail are relaxed, they’re most likely happy and enjoying making some biscuits. But if your cat seems tense or agitated while kneading and purring, they could be stressed about something and engaging in a soothing behavior to calm down.
Kneading & Drooling
It’s also common for cats to drool while kneading. Drooling can happen when a cat is so relaxed and into the rhythm of kneading that they simply forget to swallow. Kneading and drooling can also be traced back to the nursing instinct, because drooling is a sign that your cat’s salivary glands are active in anticipation of a meal.
Drooling can also be a symptom of illness or injury, so contact your vet if:
- Drooling is constant
- Drool is thick or unpleasant
- You notice an abrupt change in drooling behavior
Excessive drooling can be caused by an oral injury, exposure to a toxin, or illness affecting the digestive system. Cats are notorious for hiding pain, so don’t hesitate to seek professional care if you sense something is “off” in your cat’s behavior.
How to Discourage Your Cat from Kneading
Many cat parents are enchanted by their cat’s enjoyment of kneading, but not everyone enjoys being the “dough”, especially when claws are involved. Your cat’s kneading may also annoy your dog, or damage your blankets and sofa cushions.
Tips for managing kneading behavior:
- Cover your lap with a blanket so your cat’s claws don’t scratch you
- Designate a special kneading blanket or pillow, and use a pheromone spray to make it attractive. If your cat starts kneading somewhere unwanted, gently relocate them to the designated kneading object, or bring it to them.
- Use a toy, treats, or catnip to redirect your cat’s attention when you want them to stop kneading.
Never scold your cat for kneading. Kneading is natural and instinctive, so if your cat feels they’re being punished for kneading it could trigger an aggressive response and hurt your bond. Your best course of action is to keep your cat’s claws trimmed, and carefully remove them from your lap and redirect their behavior when kneading is bothersome.
How Much Kneading Is Normal?
Some cats knead more than others, but obsessive kneading could be a sign of an anxious cat trying to self-soothe or encourage you to comfort them. You know your cat best, so if you’re concerned or notice sudden changes in their behavior patterns, consult your veterinarian. To learn more about supporting your cat’s physical and mental health, check out our guide to promoting cat wellness.