Skip to main content

Experts explain why your cat kneads you

You’ve just sat down on the couch and your cat has climbed into your lap. Instead of curling up and settling down for a nap, though, your cat proceeds to knead you, his claws poking into your skin again and again. Kneading is a natural behavior for cats, but it can be pretty uncomfortable when your cat decides that your lap is the best place to knead. Some cats can also get quite enthusiastic with this behavior, making the experience a painful one for you. If you’re wondering, “Why do cats knead me?” then you’re in luck. Two experts have shared their insights about this feline behavior and the causes behind it.

A cat's paws draped over a white blanket
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What is kneading, and why do cats do it?

Dr. Sharon Campbell, D.V.M., M.S., DACVIM, medical lead & behavior at Zoetis Petcare, explains that kneading resembles the motion that a human makes when kneading dough. The behavior is sometimes called “making biscuits.”

“It’s the rhythmic motion cats make with their paws, alternating between left and right, typically on soft objects like blankets, pillows, your belly, and even other pets,” says Campbell.

Cats have many potential reasons for kneading, but Campbell says the most prevalent theory relates to the cat’s time as a kitten. “Nursing kittens knead their mother’s belly to stimulate milk production and flow from the teats. It’s thought that kittens carry this action into adulthood with positive associations of their comfort when nursing,” she says.

There are plenty of other theories, too. One of them is that cats knead to create a warm, cozy bed. “The wild ancestors of today’s house cats would knead to pat down grass and other vegetation, making a soft spot for resting or giving birth,” explains Campbell.

Cats may also knead to mark their territory. Because cats have scent glands in their paws, kneading releases those pheromones. That allows cats to mark their territory and communicate with other cats who are in the area.

According to Campbell, cats may also knead to indicate their mating status: “Females may use kneading when in heat to attract males for mating.”

The act of kneading can provide valuable physical benefits, too. “Cats need to stretch their muscles,” says Campbell. “This is one reason they scratch high up on trees or scratching posts. Kneading is another way they keep those important leg and paw muscles limber.”

Lambert Wang, co-founder and vice president of product development at Cat Person, notes that while cats knead for many reasons, if a cat is kneading you, he’s most likely returning affection. “You might notice that your cat kneads when they are content as you pet them — your feline friend wants you to feel the love, too!” says Wang.

A cat's paw draped over its owner's arm
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How should you respond if a cat kneads you?

So, what should you do if your cat climbs into your lap and starts making biscuits? “Though it can be painful when their sharp claws dig in with every knead, you should never chastise your cat for this behavior,” says Wang. “It’s completely natural and they have no way of knowing that this sign of affection can hurt. Instead, try placing thick, soft barriers between you and your cat, be it a blanket or a cushion. You can also try trimming your cat’s nails and keeping them maintained.”

Remember, your cat’s kneading is a way to show you affection. Even though it might smart a little, try to take it as a compliment: Your cat is doing this because he loves you, he’s comfortable with you, and he’s happy to be sitting in your lap.

When you understand the causes behind your cat’s kneading, you can better appreciate what he is trying to accomplish with the behavior. Regular nail trims can help prevent any damage your cat might cause by kneading, making the process more comfortable for you and also keeping him from getting a nail snagged in your blankets. If you’re not yet familiar with how to trim your cat’s nails, ask your vet to show you, then get into the habit of doing this regularly at home. When your cat does knead, remember that he’s showing you how much he loves you. You might choose to put up with a little discomfort in the name of cat love!

Editors' Recommendations

Paige Cerulli
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Paige's work has appeared in American Veterinarian, Business Insider, Healthline, and more. When she's not writing, Paige…
How to tell if your cat is a Maine Coon mix (and why you should care)
Should you consider a Maine Coon mix? Here's what you need to know
Closeup of a Maine Coon's face

There are plenty of big and fluffy cats out there, but one of the best-known breeds fitting this description is the Maine Coon. These cats are not only impressive in size, but they also tend to have fantastic personalities that make them beloved family pets. While purebred Maine Coons are a little more uncommon in rescues and shelters, it's possible to adopt a Maine Coon mix that still has some of the breed's distinctive characteristics.

While telling exactly which breeds your cat is can be a little tricky, it's worth doing some investigative work to better understand your feline's background and what that might mean for the care he needs during his life.
Where do Maine Coon cats come from?
You may have heard that the Maine Coon Cate originated from a fantastical cross between a feline and a raccoon. Of course, this didn't really happen, but it could be where they get the name. (Another option, from a ship's captain who brought the first of these kitties ashore.)

Read more
There’s a totally normal reason cats throw up after eating grass – here’s why
Learn about this cat behavior and if there's cause for concern
Calico cat lying on its back in a grassy yard

If your cat throws up after eating grass, there's probably no reason to be concerned. Eating grass is a natural behavior for most cats, and throwing up after eating that grass also is pretty common. There are physical reasons for why your cat throws up grass, and aside from dealing with the inconvenience of having to clean up cat vomit in the house, this behavior usually isn't a problem.

But excessive vomiting and unusual grass consumption can be a cause for concern. If your cat likes to munch grass, then it's best to familiarize yourself with what's normal and what might be a reason to worry.

Read more
When do kittens start eating food? Know the facts for your fur baby’s health
Consider this your guide to weaning kittens from milk or formula to solids
a white kitten with blue eyes in a cat tree

By the time you usually bring home a brand-new kitten at eight to nine weeks old, they’ve already gone through a significant transition: being weaned from milk to solid foods. However, you may find yourself in the trenches of new kitten parenthood at an even earlier stage. If you are fostering a kitten or have found a newborn, you have likely been bottle-feeding them milk or watching their mother nurse.
In these cases, you may wonder, “When do kittens start eating food?” Weaning is usually a natural process, particularly if the Mom is involved. If you’re bottle-feeding, the process may be a bit trickier, and you may have to help lead it. Regardless of your situation, understanding what to expect can help you know when to have kibble and water on hand as a kitten gets ready to wean. Consider this your guide.

When do kittens start eating food and drinking water?
The weaning process involves going from the mother’s milk to kibble and water, which is what a kitten will eat and drink in some form for the rest of their life. If the mother cat is around, she’ll know when the time is right to start weaning, and it’s best not to interfere.
Generally, kittens will start to be ready to take small tastes of solid foods and water at around three to four weeks. The food and water are complimentary at this young age, so don’t worry too much if they play with it more than they eat it. They’re still getting most of their nutrition from Mom or a formula in a bottle.

Read more