From pillows to blankets, furniture, carpets, and their servant humans, you’ve probably experienced your adorable little feline massaging or kneading you or items in your household. Some call it “making biscuits,” while others think of it as a massage, but why do cats knead their owners?
It’s one of the mysterious and sometimes charming quirks our kitties present. Such as the push-forward motions of their paws impersonate kneading dough — ‘making biscuits’.
In general, cats are peculiar creatures; they exhibit some strange behaviors, like protecting you while you sleep and kneading and biting blankets. So, you may be wondering, “Why do cats knead us?” Let’s take a look into some reasons why cats knead humans.
Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners – And What Is Kneading?
Before we dive into some motives behind why our felines knead their humans, we need to understand, ‘what is cat kneading?’
Kneading is a soft, rhythmic motion during which felines will shift their paws in and out of a soft surface, alternating between feet. It’s often referred to as ‘making biscuits’ as the action looks like they’re kneading dough.
It’s typical behavior in both kittens and adult felines alike. Some cats purr away and knead contentedly when being petted, and some may also perform the actions at random.
Cats have their own techniques in kneading — some use claws, and others retract theirs; some use all four paws, and others use their two front ones.
One theory behind kneading is that cats in the wild would build places in the grass for nesting, looking after kittens, or resting after a day out on the hunt.
Why Do Cats Knead On Their Owners?
There are many possible reasons why cats knead their owners. Whether it’s your kitty making biscuits to show affection or to claim you as their own, kneading is a natural and common feline behavior.
Let’s look at the possible reasons why our kitties knead us below.
1. Seeking Comfort
Why do cats knead humans? It’s a cry for comfort. Sometimes cats knead to express emotions. When your feline feels frustrated, anxious, or depressed, they may reach out for a comforting surface to help calm themselves.
If you find your cat kneading out of distress, you should try gently petting her. If the kneading persists, you should consult your vet.
2. Getting Ready for a Nap
You’ll often find your cats making biscuits before bed. Another reason cats knead is to adjust the surface before taking a nap. Just like how you would fluff your pillows and blankets before you sleep or how dogs circle their beds to readjust their blankets —so does your fluffy feline with their beds.
It’s a behavior handed down from their wild cat ancestors. Feral cats paw at piles of leaves or tall grass to create a comfortable ‘nest’ for a nap or a safe place to give birth.
By doing this, they not only create a more cozy spot to curl up into their favorite kitty sleeping positions, but they’re also checking for any dangerous things in the foliage.
Your little ball of love sleeps a lot, and when they feel the surface is unsuitable for napping on, they will prepare to make it as comfortable before a snooze. They also knead with their paws to help them wind down and prepare for the nap.
Read more about why cats sleep so much.
3. The Massage of Love
The experience of having our beloved cats knead on our bare skin is less than pleasant, especially when their claws come out. Having our cats use us as a scratching post or a pin cushion can be quite an uncomfortable experience.
Nevertheless, when our purrfect kitty kneads us, we should take this as flattery. It means she trusts you, feels safe, and expresses love. If you notice that your cat tends to knead one member of your household more than another, or only one member of your household, I am afraid that this most likely means that this is who your cat feels the most affection about.
However, if your kitty becomes too excited with her claws, you can try putting something, like a blanket or a towel, between them and you.
You can also encourage your furbaby to lie down and relax by gently pushing them down onto your lap. Alternatively, you can try distracting them with a fun cat toy.
Whatever you do, never punish or scold your cat for kneading you. They don’t intentionally try to hurt you; this is often their way of saying, ‘I love you.’
4. Demanding Attention & Expressing Affection
Felines are portrayed as being unemotional and selfish. However, this is not the case; they often form close bonds with their owners and desire attention. Some domestic cat breeds, like the Siberian Cat, love affection and being social.
Tasty treats, petting, playing sessions, chew toys — most cats demand it all. While you’re trying to watch TV or read and your kitty kneads your stomach, it may be a sign that your furball wants to connect with you.
If you haven’t paid attention to your kitty for a while and she starts to knead you randomly, she’s likely trying to spend time bonding with you.
Your cat kneads to show their affection and that she loves you just by purring. Kitties can express their enjoyment of your company by kneading you.
5. Marking Their Territory
Felines are very territorial by nature and like to mark what’s theirs. They have scent glands in several places over their bodies, including their paws. Kneading is one of the ways cats mark their territory with their scent.
Why do kittens make biscuits? Your feline may mark their bedding, bed, or clothing to let others know you are part of her empire.
So, when they press continuously onto something, they’re marking what’s theirs. Your cat owns you whether you like it or not.
6. Reminiscing About Their Kittenhood
Cats start to knead as early as newborn kitties. Pressing their paws to both sides of their mother’s teats stimulates milk flow. It’s a basic instinct they use from day one, and most cats continue this behavior into adulthood. This is also why your cat may begin to drool sometimes when it is kneading you – it is anticipating a feed.
In adulthood, felines knead when feeling content as they associate the motion with nursing and their mothers’ comforts. Some kitties may do it out of habit or only for enjoyment as they grow older.
It also shows that your cat associates the secure nature of your relationship with the one they had with their mother when they were kittens.
Kneading is soft; even though they don’t get milk from their mothers, they feel safe and sound. While they knead your arm, leg, chest, etc., your fluffy pal may recall happy memories of her kittenhood.
7. Getting a Stretch Out of It
Cats love to stretch, before or after naps especially. Our kitties have a unique musculoskeletal system that needs to stay in good condition by exercising and getting a good stretch out.
They may use kneading to exercise the muscles in their paws, forelegs, and back and relieve any soreness they might feel there. Your cat may also be doing this just because it feels good. Like humans, it is ideal to have a surface of some type to stretch again. This might be you, your sofa, or other furniture in the house.
8. Going Into Heat
During certain times of the year, female cat behavior acts as a way to communicate and facilitate reproduction. Adult female felines knead more often when ‘in heat,’ also known as estrus.
Estrus is when a female cat (or mammal) is ready for mating. Sometimes, females in heat knead to show males they are prepared to conceive.
A female cat will rest on her side and knead, purr, and stretch, signaling she is interested in mating. They may also perform this behavior along with being very vocal and displaying more affection than usual.
This behavior could also indicate a non-threatening invitation or symbolize a relaxed state.
Read more about why cats purr and bite.
Why Do Cats Massage Their Owners? – Final Thoughts
Kneading got its name from a similar action that we do when we knead dough. However, this is an adorable and relaxing action to watch with our kitties.
Why do cats like to knead their owners? It’s largely still a mystery. No one knows what makes cats knead their owners or knead at all, but it’s believed to be instinct from kittenhood and can mean many things.
Cat owners should know by now that their kitties offer some funny traits that they adore exhibiting. From purring to kneading, our furry pals make our lives much more delightful, filled with entertainment and love.
Although kneading can sometimes be uncomfortable for humans, try not to punish your cat for kneading behavior. Kneading shows that your cat is happy and relaxed, which is good. It is an instinct for your cat to want to knead, so as much as you can, allow it to go ahead and express this instinct.
If your cat has its claws out when kneading and is causing you pain, gently pick it up and put it on another soft surface to continue its kneading without causing you pain.
Looking for a light-hearted read? Take a look at these Funny Cat Quotes!
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.