Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners? Why Does She Do It To Humans?

image of a cats paws kneading

“making biscuits”

I am sure that you are wondering why do cats knead their owners? What’s up with this cute behavior?

In this article you will learn why do they do it and what does it mean.

Your cat needs you because she is a domesticated animal that can’t take care of herself. Cats need humans to care for them.

She doesn’t just need you to provide basics such as food and shelter. She needs you to pet her and tell her she’s a good cat and…oh… kneads. (Does best Emily Litella impression.) Never mind.

Jump To:

Kneading in a nutshell … (1 minute read)

When do felines start doing it? … (1 minute read)

Reasons why felines knead … (2 minute read)

Problematic behavior … (1 minute read)

How to stop negative kneading … (1 minute read)

What is Kneading?

This action where cats use their paws to squeeze whatever they’re laying on, also called “making biscuits” (That’s scones for our British friends) is an instinctive nature for cats.

Kneading by a cat is best illustrated by the Warner Brothers’ Merrie Melodies cartoon “Feed the Kitty“. Marc Anthony, a large bulldog, befriends a tiny little black and white kitten. He lets the kitten (called “Pussyfoot”) ride on his back. Pussyfoot makes herself comfortable by kneading Marc Anthony’s back. Marc Anthony is a bit uncomfortable with this, but puts up with it because Pussyfoot is so darn cute.

When does the kneading start?

image of a feline paw

The kneading starts not long at all after a kitten is born. Soon after birth, the newborn kitten latches on to a teat and begins to nurse. The milk flow can be further stimulated by the kitten kneading at mother cat’s mammary glands with those tiny paws. From the very beginning, your cat learned to associate kneading with being safe and cared for.

One more funny point:

You may notice that a kneading kitty has a far away look in her eyes as she kneads, often while purring. It’s possible your cat is experiencing a flashback, albeit a pleasant one.

Your cat cats knead you?

There are many reasons why a cat may feel a need to go through this kneading motion. Let’s take a look a few possible reasons.

It’s a way that a cat can show their affection

It’s altogether possible that you take such good care of Kitty she starts thinking of you as her Mama. It isn’t unusual for cats to treat their favorite human as if they were mama cat and they’re kittens well into adulthood. She may greet you with happy meows and tail straight in the air. Petting her just reminds her more of Mama. She may knead you just as she kneaded Mama while nursing.

Cat kneading stimulates scent hormones in the paws

image of scent hormones in the paws

Cats have scent glands on their paws that get stimulated as the cat kneads. A kneading cat may be saying “This is mine, and this is mine and all of that is mine….” If your among the things your cat will knead, she’s just letting everyone know that you are her own personal human. The question “Why do cat knead their owners?” could be better expressed as “Why do cats knead what they own?” You don’t own a cat. The cat owns you.

A female cat on heat may do this gesture obsessively, hoping the scent will attract a boyfriend. Get her spayed. A male cat may become hyper-aggressive after kneading. Get him neutered.

Kneading is a way to express feeling safe and comfortable

If your cat feels safe and comfortable, that can make her revert to kittenhood. She may drift off in her mind while doing this, her eyes becoming unfocused or even closing. If she gets too lost in dreams, she may drool a little. On the other hand, your cat might actually feel stressed out and is doing the kneading motions as a way of calming herself down by pretending everything is fine.

Kneading may aid a cat in making a suitable place to lay down

It may be an instinct from the wild as well. An animal in the wild might have to beat down and knead tall grasses to have someplace comfortable to sleep. A domestic cat is trying to shape her bedding into just the perfect nest for her. In this case, the kneading is akin to fluffing a pillow before bed. Even the most picky of cats generally won’t spend to long on this as they’re tired and want to sleep.

She might be a kneady (scratch that) needy cat

Did you really think you’ve seen the last of that pun? Nope! And you get another one for free! (Cat scratch! Get it?) Sometimes cats knead their owners just to get attention. She may combine this with purring. She’s saying “Aren’t I a good kitty? Don’t you like me? I like you!” Give the sweet thing the petting she wants.

Signs You Have to Stop Your Cat From Kneading

image of a kitty paw in human hand

Now that you know “What does it mean when a cat kneads” you can now understand how to get them to stop if it becomes destructive. The closest human equivalent to kneading in cats would be thumb sucking. It’s a nasty habit that can be difficult to break a child of and an adult looks ridiculous doing it.

With cats, it’s not so much that it’s unhygienic and silly looking as that it causes pain and property damage, particularly if she unsheathes her claws to do it. If your cat is doing this compulsively, causing harm to you or others or if your male cat gets rowdy after kneading, preventive measures must be taken.

How to stop cat kneading

Obsessive kneading is common in cats who were weaned prematurely. If your cat is obsessive or destructive in kneading, you should try to gently urge them to stop. You could gently ease her into a reclining position. This may make her realize it’s time for a nap. You could use slight (only slight) pressure on her paws to make the motion more difficult to carry out. Distraction can work.

If she doesn’t seem sleepy when she kneads or if you think he might start getting aggressive, you can throw a treat or toy across their field of vision. Watch them run after it! A male cat may need to be petted with short strokes as he may associate long strokes with copulation. You most certainly do not want your boy thinking anything like that is forthcoming!

One more point I need to make:

Your kneading feline needs correction, not punishment. Kneading is a natural behavior. You could give your cat designated kneading spots, such as a pillow or piece of fabric. Put your cat in this spot whenever she starts kneading until she gets the idea and only does her kneading there. Declawing is a traumatic experience for cats that should never be considered. Some vets won’t even do it. However, a periodic trimming or filing might be a good idea.

Conclusion

Kneading is natural behavior for a cat. Like meowing, it’s a kittenish behavior that domestication means they never fully grow out of. It’s also a way for Kitty to make herself feel comfortable or subtly mark her territory. If your cat’s kneading habits are destructive or lead to unhealthy behavior, it must be corrected in a gentle way. Let your cat be happy, but not if it makes anyone else unhappy.

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  • February 9, 2019
Mary Nielsen
 

A huge animal lover, born and raised around dogs, cats, chickens... Self-educated pet care nerd. Currently parent of three adopted cats and one small mutt. Animal adoption advocate. Loves a good book (about animals) and playing the piano.