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Why Do Cats Knead?

Cat Kneading
Written by Elizabeth Italia, UW-AAB
—Feline Behavior Specialist 🇺🇸

Does your cat like to make biscuits? This phrase is a comical comparison that cat’s kneading behavior looks like they’re kneading dough.

Kneading is when a cat rhythmically opens and closes their paws on an object, like a blanket, an animal, their human or even the air!

Where does this behavior come from and what does it mean? Let’s find out.

The Origin of the Kneading Behavior

Kittens knead their mother during nursing to help get milk out. Kneading quickly becomes associated with comfort, causing this behavior to continue long after cats are grown. 

Kneading is a behavior seen in cats of all ages. Surprisingly, even kittens that are bottle-fed knead, which indicates the instinct to knead exists, even if it isn’t used during nursing.

While most cats knead, not all of them do. This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong, it’s just simply not part of all cats’ behavior.

Big cats also knead when nursing. Adult lions have been videoed kneading the ground and grassy areas, so this behavior is apparently part of adult big cat life too!

What Cats Knead

Here are the most common reasons it’s believed cats knead:

  • Comfort: The behavior clearly relaxes the cat, who usually purrs while doing it. Sometimes, the kneading is even accompanied by suckling on an object or a person’s skin. This is because the cat associates both behaviors with comfort.

  • Affection: There is no question that cats knead humans and other cats they have a bond with.

  • Claim territory: They have scent markers in their paw pads, allowing them to mark their territory and spread pheromones on everything they touch.

  • Stretch muscles: Just another way to stretch, which cats love to do.

  • Mating behavior: Sometimes female cats knead the air when it’s time for love. It’s very common for them to also purr, stretch, roll around, and even stick their butts in the air when they’re in heat.

Things cats will knead include:

  • Blankets, cat beds, and other soft materials: These materials are very soft on their paws and comfortable to knead. 

  • Humans: In addition to showing affection, it’s possible your cat is scent marking you.

  • Other cats: Cats will not knead a cat they don’t like, unless the cat has some crossed wires from not being properly socialized with other cats. A kitten lacking littermates may not know how to read or display proper social cues.

  • The air: That’s right, sometimes cats are so happy, they knead the air. This shows that the action of the opening and closing of the paw has some sort of payoff for the cat, even if it isn’t in contact with something physical.


Kneading is a normal part of kitty behaviors, so you never want to yell at your cat for doing it.

Make sure to trim your cat’s nails once every two weeks for nail health and to make sure you don’t get an unexpected injury when your cat is making biscuits in your lap!


AAHA, Is My Cat’s Kneading Normal?
PetMD, Why Do Cats Knead?


Article by  🙋‍♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist