If you are lucky enough to have a kitten or a cat in your life, you have surely noticed an interesting trait in your companion, who makes kneading movements as if he was working bread dough.

His way of rhythmically alternating the thrusts of his paws on your thighs as if he is massaging you gives you the impression that he would make an accomplished baker.

Let’s unveil the reasons behind this strange behavior.

What is cat kneading?

Cat kneading, commonly described as “making biscuits”, is a behavior most domestic cats exhibit.

This consists of extending the front legs and performing a series of extensions and flexions by alternating one leg then the other on a soft surface (might also be your lap). As if the cat was bread-making.

Most cats use two legs but some use all their paws.

Many retract their claws while others go full wolverine mode.

What does it mean when a cat kneads?

  • Marking the territory:

Domestic cats inherited the need to mark territory from their wild feline ancestors. He can do so both by spraying or scratching on tree-like surfaces (furniture at risk!).

So by kneading and scratching on the couch for instance, the glands contained in your cat’s feet release pheromones that help mark the territory.

This process is repetitive as those territorial markers tend to fade away and thus the need to renew them.

  • Changing claws:

Cats also knead and scratch on furniture to remove an old claw when a new replacement one forms underneath it.

  • Remembering the nursing days:
“File:Charline the cat and her kittens.jpg” by Stephanb is marked with CC BY-SA 3.0.

Kittens usually knead their mother’s udder while nursing which is believed to stimulate milk flow. That’s why adult cats often associate kneading with suckling, calmness and happiness.

  • Showing you affection and love:

By kneading you, your cat is trying to show you some love even though it can be a bit harmful sometimes, especially if your cat extends his claws on your lap.

  • Making a nest;

Feline ancestors used to knead on grass or mulch to make it even and tender before sleeping. And also before giving birth for females.

  • Relieving stress:

I’m pretty sure you can relate to this one!

you certainly happened someday to make some kind of repetitive movement during a stressful situation.

Well, your cat is no different!

  • Stretching:
“Stretching cat” by AlexDMartin is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Kneading is a part of every cat’s morning routine, this ensures good blood flow to the limbs especially after a good catnap which relaxes your cat’s muscles and confers him a pleasurable feeling.

Is cat kneading a sign of anxiety?

Although kneading mostly comes with purring and calmness as a sign of satisfaction and happiness, this behavior can also manifest when your cat is anxious.

But how can you tell if your cat kneads out of happiness or anxiety?

It’s simple! if the kneading is excessive, compulsive or aggressive this is clearly indicative of high levels of stress and discomfort. In which case, you should consult with your veterinarian or your animal behaviorist to help you figure out the underlying cause and treat it accordingly.

Is cat kneading painful?

Cat kneading can be very painful, especially if your cat fully extends his claws.

This can scratch your skin and may cause some serious infections if not handled properly. (e.g. namely the Cat Scratch Disease (CSD)).

According to the CDC:

Cat scratch disease (CSD) is a bacterial infection spread by cats. The disease spreads when an infected cat licks a person’s open wound, or bites or scratches a person hard enough to break the surface of the skin. About three to 14 days after the skin is broken, a mild infection can occur at the site of the scratch or bite. The infected area may appear swollen and red with round, raised lesions and can have pus. A person with CSD may also have a fever, headache, poor appetite, and exhaustion. Later, the person’s lymph nodes near the original scratch or bite can become swollen, tender, or painful.

What should i do when my cat is kneading?

Whenever you want to deal with a behavioral problem in cats, don’t try to prevent it or stop it using repression, violence or scolding.

Instead, always use the positive training approach, in this case you need to direct the kneading/scratching behavior towards an acceptable target (scratching object).

If you’re more of a handy person, you can create a scratching object from old furniture preferably with an appealing rough surface.

Or you can just go and buy a scratching post for your cat, my pick for you would be the SmartCat Pioneer Pet Ultimate Scratching Post which mimics a tree trunk by its sturdiness and height, providing your cat with a fibrous and durable woven sisal that inspires scratching without risking to snag his nails.

Featured image :

“Kneading” by dnudson under license CC BY-NC 2.0

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