Many cats have a habit of kneading and biting blankets. Most owners have seen them do it. It’s a hilariously cute activity and never fails to draw a coo of admiration from us. So why do cats knead and bite blankets?
Common wisdom usually explains it thus: the kneading comes from a kitten’s action meant to stimulate milk production in its mother. A kitten will knead a mother’s teats to stimulate the flow of milk.
You may be fascinated to hear that that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are several other reasons cats may knead or bite at their blankets, including one or two that may require a closer look. For example, biting whilst kneading can be a sign of a problem.
Here’s the explanation:
Image by Victoria Yanchevskaya from Pixabay
What Is Kneading?
Kneading can be observed when a cat is sitting atop its blanket and is “pawing” at it. Sometimes, they even knead their owners. They often alternate pressure from paw to paw, seemingly pushing down on the blanket as if to soften it.
Some refer to this amusingly as “making bread.” The cat will also use its claws, pushing them out and pulling them in as the kneading happens. Sometimes, this is accompanied by biting or sucking the blanket, too.
Blanket Considerations: When Biting Isn’t Just Biting
Biting the blanket in the context of kneading is usually an additional sign of your cat seeking and finding comfort. If you notice that the cat is not simply biting but tearing at the blanket or eating bits of it, take note.
Ingesting materials contained in blankets or garments can pose a serious problem. This could be a sign of misplaced aggression, stress (cats can get depressed, too), pica, or some other condition that should not be ignored.
What Is Pica?
Feline pica is a condition marked by eating non food items. For example, fabric or common household items.
Experts state that feline pica may be caused by a dietary problem (usually a deficiency) or even anxiety. Some theorize that the problem can even be caused by improper weaning or a compulsive disorder.
It is potentially dangerous for obvious reasons. Besides an object being swallowed that cannot be digested, a cat may also inadvertently eat something poisonous, like a household plant or substance.
If you suspect pica or any other health condition, talk to a vet is important. It’s also a good idea to ensure that the preferred and potentially dangerous items are placed out of reach.
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Other Oral and Dental Issues
It has been noted in puppies that biting and chewing are sometimes related to teething or gum problems. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that some cats could be biting to alleviate irritation, itching, or infection around the teeth or dental area. Once again, if the biting seems excessive or particularly aggressive, it may be worth taking a closer look.
Vets recommend taking your cat for a dental examination once per year to help them maintain healthy mouth and to check for any problems.
A Note on Allergies & Bacteria
Something to consider is the possibility of allergies, and the blanket is a possible source of an allergic reaction. Some fibers contain particles or substances that can cause a reaction in cats.
An allergic reaction may also cause gum irritation, for example. In that case, your cat may be chewing on the blanket to alleviate pain. Meanwhile, the blanket itself may be causing the problem.
On that same note, keep your cat’s favorite blanket clean. A good wash once a week or so should do. If they chew on their blanket, bacteria may become a factor, putting the kitty at risk of illness.
If you suspect your cat may be allergic to the blanket, consider a hypoallergenic option. Replacing a favorite blanket may take a few tries, though. Sometimes a cat attaches to a particular item because of scent or comfort.
Over time, and with a bit of patience, you should be able to successfully swap out a problematic garment or blanket for a safer one. If you’re unsure, consult a vet for advice.
Why do Cats Knead and Bite Blankets? 5 Reasons
Let’s take a look into the main reasons for cats kneading and biting blankets. Yes, it’s more than just the instinct and memory of mother’s milk. Reasons for kneading run the gamut of genetic inheritance, territory marking, and managing anxiety.
1. Territorial Claims
Cats are notoriously territorial. They could be kneading a blanket in order to claim it. Cats’s paws have special glands which leave behind a scent during kneading. It would make sense that kneading on a favorite piece of material would be a good way to mark it. Mine!
Image by Ann Erkhim from Pixabay
2. Natural Wild Behavior
One theory suggests that kneading could be a perfectly natural wild behavior that dates back to when cats became domesticated. In the wild, cats may have simply taken to leveling or softening the ground upon which they lay especially before sleep or rest.
3. Nursing Memories
As noted earlier, nursing (or the memory of it) is one of the most well-known reasons cats adopt kneading behavior as adults. It may be a bit more complete than that.
Some behaviorists suggest that it manifests more in cats separated from their moms too early. The result is that they intentionally seek to replicate this behavior on a surface that feels vaguely like their mother’s belly would. In this case, it is soft and warm.
Biting is part of the same behavior and may be an effort to replicate the feeling of bringing them closer to their mother.
4. Trusted Companions
It is a good thing when your cat chooses to knead you or its fluffy blankets next to you. As far as we can tell, this is a great sign that it trusts you. If you hear purring along with the kneading, take extra points.
Cats are very aware of the goings on in their surroundings. When they do relax, they can show it by settling down to a calm sleep or chill session. The kneading of the blanket assists with this, especially if it is familiar—and when you’re nearby, even better.
Image by Kasia from Pixabay
5. Relaxation & Anxiety
One aspect carried over from the wild is the fear or threat when cats are asleep. After all, being hyper-aware of any danger is important in the wild. As a result, cats are naturally a little anxious about letting their defenses down.
Kneading has been observed to calm a cat down, helping it to relax and prepare for a possible down-mood. Purring also assists with this.
Blankets, being fuzzy and warm, may even remind a cat of the safety presented by their likewise fuzzy and warm mom. Nestled safely in a group of siblings is a great memory to have, and a warm blanket is a sensory reminder of exactly what that feels like.
This is also why you have several YouTube videos of cats kneading their pet friends—dogs, for example. It’s literally a method to relax, feel comfortable, and dream of kittenhood.
Should You Stop the Behavior?
Unless you notice your cat biting excessively or eating the blanket, there’s no real cause to worry. The kneading behavior, once manifested, can carry on into adulthood without any negative consequences.
Provided your cat is otherwise displaying a normal, healthy personality and behavior, consider it a sign that it is happily relaxing around you and enjoying it.
If you’re worried about your cat’s behavior, it’s best to contact your veterinarian.
Final Thoughts on Why Cats Knead and Bite Blankets
So, kneading is a behavior born out of several causes. It may be to claim territory, and sometimes it’s really about establishing a place of trust and comfort. It is probably a genetic trait handed down through the species, but it also has observable calming effects on your cat.
Having your cat bite and knead its blanket can be calming. And not only to your cat. The notion of a cat settling into a comfortable and snug spot on the bed or couch is usually quite pleasurable for you, too. So as long as it seems to please your friendly, little cat, let it happen, and join in the snuggles.
Meet the Veterinary Expert
Charlotte recently became a doctor and studied at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She’s volunteered in her university’s obstetrical clinic, and equine clinic, and is dog mum to 14-year-old Chiki. Charlotte loves to travel and has completed externships in Austria, Spain, and Belgium.