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Is my cat's kneading normal?

Cats are mysterious creatures who often do strange things. Kneading may seem strange, but it is an entirely normal activity for our feline friends. Some cats enjoy “making biscuits” more than others, and they will drool and glaze over while kneading your lap or a plush blanket. Since cats aren’t renowned for their baking skills, what are they actually doing when they knead? There are several theories behind this curious behavior.

Why your cat kneads

Kneading is an instinctive trait in cats, who often knead on a soft surface, such as a blanket, other cats, or your lap. It appears to be relaxing and soothing—many cats will purr contentedly, drift off into sleep, or simply zone out and enjoy the motion. Following are some of the more popular theories behind this feline behavior:

  • Kneading during nursing — Kneading may be a leftover behavior from kittenhood when kittens would knead during nursing, and that comforting feeling continues into adulthood. One theory claimed that adult cats who kneaded were separated from their mother too early, but evidence shows nearly all cats knead, regardless of weaning age.
  • Kneading to convey comfort — Happy cats appear to knead to show pleasure. Cats often knead while being petted, or when snuggling into a napping spot. Your cat may also knead on your lap to show her love and contentment, and then settle in for a pat or nap. A stressed cat may knead to create a soothing, calm mood.
  • Kneading to develop a resting place — Similar to the theory regarding dogs turning in circles before lying down, kneading may help cats create a soft sleeping place. Wild feline ancestors would knead tall grass into cushy piles for a resting place, and this behavior may still be instinctual in our domesticated friends.
  • Kneading to mark territory — Cats are strongly driven by scent-related communication, relying on scent markers to claim territory and leave other cats a message. Your cat has scent glands in her paws, and scratching and kneading deposits her scent, letting other animals know she was there.

How to stop your cat from kneading

Kneading may seem like an adorable behavior, but it can be uncomfortable if your cat kneads with her claws out. She may also inadvertently tear up blankets and furniture, or irritate your dog. To encourage appropriate kneading actions, try the following tips:

  • Keep your kitty’s claws trimmed short to prevent sharp hooks.
  • Encourage your cat to knead elsewhere. Investigate the line of Feliway products and use a pheromone-based spray to persuade your cat to knead on a blanket instead of your lap.
  • Redirect her attention with treats or a toy. Cats are easily trainable, and you can quickly teach her a different behavior, such as sitting or chasing a toy, instead of kneading.
  • If your cat uses her claws while kneading, consider placing a special “kneading-only,” thick blanket on your lap that will protect you and indicate to your cat that she is only allowed to knead on that blanket. Otherwise, gently place her on the ground and distract her with a treat or toy.
  • Never punish your cat for kneading. She likely will respond negatively and lash out aggressively if she is punished for her natural, instinctive behavior. Stick to redirection and distraction techniques instead to keep your kitty’s trust.

Your cat’s kneading is a normal feline activity, and one of the many ways we celebrate and bond with these unique, mysterious creatures. If you’re ever concerned about your cat’s behavior, reach out to your AAHA-accredited veterinarian for advice.