Cats are mysterious, unpredictable creatures with their fair share of strange behaviors. One well-known cat habit is called kneading… or in the language of cat owners, “making biscuits.”
Our feline friends may not be bakers, so why do they knead their owners’ laps or comfy blankets? There’s no way of knowing exactly what’s going on in the mind of a cat, but there are a few popular theories about cats and their need to knead.
What is Kneading?
Kneading is an instinctive habit in many cats. They often knead soft surfaces such as blankets and the laps of loved ones. When cats knead, they repetitively push their paws in and against an object—similar to the action of kneading dough, hence the term “making biscuits.”
Kneading generally happens when a kitty is feeling content and comfortable. You may recognize it as a pre-naptime ritual, or a little dance your cat does when she’s loving her quality time with you. Kneading is often paired with purring, and maybe even some drooling with eyes glazed over. Some cats drift off to sleep shortly after a kneading routine.
Why Do Cats Knead?
Generally, comfort and a kneading cat go hand in hand (or paw in paw). Nursing kittens knead to stimulate milk production from their mama, so it’s possible that kneading continues as a lifelong habit because it’s instinctively comforting.
If kneading is associated with the comfort of nursing, then it definitely explains why cats knead soft blankets, pillows, stuffed toys, and loved ones. It means that they’re feeling content and/or trying to get comfortable; when your kitty kneads her bed, she’s getting ready to settle in for a nap. When she kneads your lap, she’s telling you that she’s ready to sit with you for a while.
Sometimes, kneading can be calming for a stressed out cat. She may begin kneading as a way to self-soothe. Whether it’s to convey comfort or create comfort, kneading is a sure sign that comfort is in the near future.
Kneading can also be a sign of affection. Your independent cat may pretend she doesn’t need you, but her kneading says otherwise. When your cat gives you that mini massage, she’s telling you she loves you. (Think of it as her way of petting you in return.)
Along with big cat stretches and yawns, kneading is also a good way for your furry friend to stretch her muscles after a cat nap.
One interesting feline fact is that cats have scent glands in their paws; cats, like dogs, can communicate through scent. When your cat scratches and kneads, she’s activating the scent glands in her paws to essentially mark her territory.
How to Stop Problematic Kneading
Kneading may be a strange habit, but it’s certainly not a cause for concern. That being said, if kneading is causing scratches in your skin or tears in your couch cushions, you may want to make some changes.
While you should avoid declawing your cat, there are still plenty of ways to keep your cat’s claws under control. Trim your cat’s nails on a regular basis, or provide a scratch pad or scratching post which can help your cat file down her nails on her own.
If you don’t want your cat’s kneading to destroy your nice throw pillows, be sure to provide plenty of cat-friendly objects that she can knead. Use catnip to redirect her to appropriate objects and surfaces.
If your cat’s affectionate kneading is painful or uncomfortable for you, gently distract her with a toy or treat and set her down. The happier your cat gets, the more she’ll dig in with her nails, so it’s a good idea to be prepared with an extra layer or blanket to keep your skin scratch-free.
Never punish kneading—because it’s an instinct, your cat doesn’t know it’s wrong and she definitely doesn’t intend to hurt you. Punishing a kneading cat can lead to confusion and a negative association with something that is supposed to be comforting; punishment could also lead to aggression. Instead, focus on calm distraction and redirection. Or, get comfortable, sit back, and relax with your cat!
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