Why Is Your Cat Making Biscuits (Kneading)?

Written by Shaunice Lewis
Updated: October 22, 2022
Image Credit Raihana Asral/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • Cats can knead to express happiness, mark territory, settle in for a sleep, soothe themselves, and show affection.
  • Kneading begins in infancy as a kitten kneads its mother to stimulate milk production.
  • Kneading in adult cats is a self-soothing activity that some cats use to reduce stress or create a feeling of comfort and security.

We’ve all seen the strange behavior that cats exhibit sometimes when they “knead” a soft blanket or perhaps even your lap. Why do they do this? Why do cats make biscuits, so to speak? Are they trying to find a comfortable spot to rest? Are they looking for comfort?

Read on to find out more about this common behavior.

What Is Cat Kneading?

Kneading is sometimes referred to as making biscuits. It is strange behavior that is commonly observed in domestic house cats. The action looks like the cat is pushing out or downwards with both paws, alternating them back and forth. The cat may push against soft surfaces such as a blanket, pillow, carpet, couch, or its owner. Each push of the alternating paws is also accompanied by a grasping motion of the cat’s claws. This is what makes it look like the cat is kneading biscuit dough, hence the term.

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The process of each paw alternating takes about one to two seconds. Cats will only do this action on soft surfaces, not hard ones. However, in some cases, cats may reflexively “march” on a hard surface rather than knead it.

Not every cat will practice this kneading behavior, but it is common amongst cats of all ages. Some cats will knead and purr while being petted, while at other times they seem to do it by themselves for no apparent reason. The action can even differ slightly from cat to cat, as some may not use their claws while kneading and others may even use all for paws rather than just the front two!

Why Do Cats Knead?

If the question “why do cats make biscuits?” has been on your mind, you will find that there are a few explanations for the habit. Cats can knead to express happiness, mark territory, settle in for a sleep, soothe themselves, and show affection. Let’s take a look at some of the most common explanations.

Cats start to knead when they are kittens while starting to nurse from their mother. A newborn kitten will instinctually knead against its mother in order to help stimulate milk production. This instinctual habit is there to help to kitten survive. Without it, it wouldn’t be able to eat or survive. But if this is the case, why do they continue to knead past nursing age?

Adult cats can be found kneading blankets, stuffed toys, or really any soft object around the house—none of which produce milk. The reason you might find your adult cats kneading random objects is that they will forever associate the motion of kneading with the rewarding feeling of comfort that comes with nursing from their mothers.

When you find your cat snuggling up and kneading your lap or stomach, it is because your cat is seeking those feelings of comfort and security. This display of affection isn’t always well received by the one on the receiving end, however, as cats do tend to stick their claws into you while kneading.

While kneading begins at an early age as a means of seeking food, it may become entwined with the comfort the cat gets from being petted and become a loving gesture. Unfortunately, it can be quite a painful experience for the human. The happier your fluffy friend is, the harder he may dig his nails into you. When this happens, try not to display anger or aggression. The cats don’t realize this motion hurts you. Instead, try placing a barrier between you and the cat, such as a pillow or blanket so that your cat can display his positive feelings towards you—without breaking the skin.

You can also make it a habit to keep your cat’s nails trimmed with a proper pair of nail clippers designed specifically for cats. Or you could also purchase nail guards to place over the top of your cat’s nail.

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Another option is that you could also purchase nail guards to place over the top of your cat’s nail.

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Cats also knead to give their muscles a good stretch. We’ve all seen how cats love a good stretch, especially after a long nap. Sometimes a cat will knead in order to stretch out its arms or paws. This helps keep them nimble for their active lifestyle of jumping and climbing.

Cats can also knead to mark their territory. As we know, cats are very territorial creatures. One of the many ways they claim their turf is by kneading their paws on a surface. When cats do this, they’re activating scent glands that are located within their soft paw pads. The scent is what marks the object as its territory.

Another reason that cats knead or make biscuits, is for possible mates. This one may seem strange but female cats will sometimes knead for a different reason. A female cat may purr, stretch, and knead the air while laying on her side. This action shows male cats that they have permission to approach her for possible mating. However, a more direct signal would not include kneading. The female would simply raise its pelvis with the tail to one side. Therefore, kneading is not a required action to signal to mate but is something that is sometimes done.

Cats often knead due to stress or because it made them feel better during a stressful time in the past. The behavior is self-rewarding so it get reinforced each time the cat does this. Because it is self-rewarding, it is very difficult to teach a cat to not knead. It’s important to pay attention to your cat’s behavior so you can know the difference.

Be aware of what it was doing before it began kneading or what’s going on around you while it is kneading. Felines experience a range of emotions just like we do. For example, a person that’s sad may sometimes reach for food for comfort. When a cat is anxious, depressed, or frustrated, it may exhibit kneading behavior. Kneading can help your cat calm down from these emotions. If you realize your cat is kneading out of distress, take some time to provide it with comfort by speaking to it in a soothing voice and gently petting it.

If this occurs often you may want to consider taking your cat to the vet for a check-up, as this could be a sign of an underlying health issue or chronic anxiety. Your vet will be able to determine the cause and get your kitty the help it needs.

Kneading Alternatives

If you want to provide your cat with nice, soft places to knead, consider making sure that It has a good quality bed. A cat needs a good place to sleep as well to relax throughout the day.

Part of the reason why cats knead includes their desire for comfort. If your cat doesn’t have a soft or comfortable place to rest, you might find it snuggling up to you more often and doing more kneading than you might like. A good bed will give your cat its own space to relax and provide it with a comfortable place to knead.

You can also make sure your cat has fun, soft toys to play with, as cats will need anything that feels soft to them. Having plenty of soft toys to play with can help keep your cats from kneading other soft things like your couch.

Kneading is a common behavior that can be explained for a variety of reasons. Being aware of your cat’s needs and making sure it has plenty of soft, comfortable places to relax will allow it to remain happy and healthy.

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Raihana Asral/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

Freelance writer specializing in natural health and wellness.

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