Learn about members of the Animal Kingdom
Pets

Why Do Cats Knead?

Cat kneading her place in the bed

Cats show different behaviors when interacting with people, such as: meowing, rubbing their face against your leg or body, purring, kneading, etc. Let’s see why do cats knead?

What Is Kneading?

Kneading can be seen in cats starting at a very young age. They perform this instinctive behavior on their mother’s nipples to stimulate milk and colostrum production. Through kneading, they exert pressure on the nipple area, by extending and closing their retractable claws and they do this when they feel that the milk flow is reduced.

newborn kitten kneading nipple

Newborn kitten kneading nipple, image source: pixabay.com.

This way, they can activate the milk production, and will continue to do this until weaning occurs, around the age of three weeks.

Weaning is a gradual process during which the mother cat will begin to reject her kittens when they come to feed, so they can start eating and drinking water alone (they no longer depend on their mother).

Why Do Adult Cats Knead?

There are several reasons why cats continue to knead even after weaning.

When cats become less dependent on their mother’s milk, their diet is mostly based on animal protein. If the cat lives mostly in the house with its owner, it will continue to knead, which shows: that they are happy, an emotional bond, they want to rest better, to stretch or to mark their territory with pheromones.

When they are happy

A happy cat can start kneading, purring and meowing, to show its owner her or his mood. Cats will knead when they feel comfortable and happy. This behavior shows the fact that the cat enjoys physical interaction and has good emotional well-being.

When they have an emotional bond

It seems that adult cats knead people and other pets with which they were socialized. Well socialized cats enjoy human and other pets company, so when they are in a relaxing context, in the comfort of their owner or another individual that they enjoy, they are more likely to knead to show their affection.

They can also do kneading with dogs or other pets if they have been socialized with them and they feel comfortable in their presence.

Cats knead to rest better

Kneading in cats can be observed even when they are not in the company or a person or another animal. They can do this before sleeping, or a pregnant cat can do this when is preparing for kittens.

Cat kneading a blanket

Cat kneading her blanket, image source: pixabay.com

Males and non-pregnant females can start kneading on a surface that they consider comfortable enough, such as a blanket or yourself to show that they prepare for sleeping and they want to make the place more comfortable.

Cats knead to stretch

Exactly like people, cats love to stretch each and every muscle in their body. Whether they sit on you or on a blanket, they start stretching their muscles after sleeping. They can also start kneading to show their satisfaction.

Cats knead to mark the area with pheromones

Cats produce and consume their own pheromones. They secrete chemical compounds through certain glands (pheromones), to communicate with other animals in the area (other animals in the house including other cats). They do this to mark you or an area in the house, for the others to know that you and that place in the house are all their territory.

They can also do this by rubbing their cheeks, chin and other area of their mouth against you, to mark your body and clothes as their property.

What Does It Mean When A Cat Kneads You?

If a cat kneads you, is a clear sign that it trusts you and feels very comfortable in your presence.

Cats also knead their owner or other person in the family, to show affection and the fact that they are happy in their presence.

Another reason why cats can knead you is when they prepare to take a nap with you. In this case, they start kneading to make the place more comfortable for resting.

Finally, a cat can knead you in order to mark you as their possession/territory, and this is usually happening when in the same house besides the cat there other pets that need to be warned about this.

What Are Cats Doing When They Knead?

Kneading is a cat behavior also known as ‘making biscuits’, because the cat does this by stepping on a soft surface and then alternatively pushing on that soft surface with each foot.

When kneading, some cats can also use their claws to massage the area, and if they sit on you in that moment, it is very possible that you will feel those claws ‘massaging’ your skin.

Cats are territorial animals, so be sure that if they rub their body against you and knead you, they are doing this to mark you with pheromones, and this will tell others that they own you (your person is part of their territory).

Should I Let My Cat Knead?

Kneading is a normal behavior in cats, and they start doing this at a very young age, by stimulating their mother’s nipple to produce more milk.

Later, after weaning, cats continue to do this when interacting with people (mainly with their owner or with a person that they prefer the most).

cat kneading owner's belly

Cat kneading owner’s belly, image source: pixabay.com

Giving the fact that cats do this when they are happy, and by doing a movement called ‘biscuit making’, you should let your cat do this and even be happy that she does this.

In fact, cats are only tenderizing your flesh (when they sit on you) to soften your body and make the area more comfortable for sleeping.

A cat that wants to sleep on you is a cat that trusts you, and feels comfortable and happy in your presence.

Conclusion

Kneading is like a massage done to your body by your cat, and she does this to soften the area a little bit. If that area is your body (even if she uses the claws), you have to feel something pleasant, as if someone with small hands would massage you.

For this reason, be happy when your cat does this because it means that she trusts you, she is happy in your presence, she feels comfortable sitting on you or near you, and…, you are their property.

Article written by:

Darius Savin is a lifelong animal lover and protector and the chief editor of Checkmember. He writes and edits articles and is also the creator of the distribution maps for all the creatures featured here.