Skip to main content

Why do cats knead and is this behavior normal?

If you watch your cat long enough, you’re likely to catch them kneading. Also sometimes called “making biscuits,” the action is similar to how you would knead dough — but it has a different purpose. A cat’s kneading with their paws is normal behavior, and they do it for several reasons and in many different situations.

Kneading isn’t always the most convenient thing for us humans — those claws can hurt if your cat decides to knead you — but this behavior is essential for cats. The more you understand about kneading, the better you can understand your cat and respond to them appropriately. So, why do cats knead with their paws? There are a few different explanations.

Cat lying on a soft white blanket
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Exercise

Kneading provides valuable exercise and movement to your cat’s paws. As they knead, they’ll naturally stretch their paws, front legs, and even up into their shoulders and back. You might notice your cat kneads for a few minutes after getting up for a nap, and they might pair this with some stretching. They’re just keeping themselves limber and comfortable.

Marking territory

Kneading can also play an important role in how your cat marks their territory. Cats have scent glands in their paw pads, and when they knead objects, they’re releasing that scent onto the object. Your cat may knead you, their bed, a favorite blanket, and other objects to demonstrate their ownership of those objects to other cats.

Making a bed

Your cat may also knead to prepare a soft place for a catnap. This may be instinctual, and your cat may understand that kneading a surface can make it softer and more comfortable. You might see your cat do this with blankets before they settle down. Some cats can be extra-particular and may knead for a long while before they decide a spot is just right and are willing to lie down.

Showing affection

Kneading may also be your cat’s way to show affection and demonstrate that they’re comfortable. For example, your cat climbs into your lap, starts to purr, and then starts to knead. Kittens knead their mother when they’re young to show contentment, so kneading as adult cats may be an extension of this. If your cat kneads you, consider it a compliment!

Closeup of a cat lying on a couch, kneading the cushion
Republica / Pixabay

What to do about kneading

A cat’s kneading is a natural behavior and quite common. Your cat probably kneads often, and there’s nothing to be concerned about if they do.

But in some cases, kneading can be inconvenient or problematic. If your cat is kneading you, their sharp claws can be uncomfortable and can even draw blood. Placing a thick blanket on your lap can help protect you against those claws.

Keeping up with your cat’s claw trims also can help. When your cat’s claws are trimmed short, they can do less damage as they knead. This can protect your blankets, furniture, and any other objects that your cat likes to knead. Establish a regular claw-trim schedule — once every six weeks or so is sufficient for most cats.

If you’ve never trimmed your cat’s claws before, ask your vet to demonstrate the process for you during your next appointment. Handling your cat’s paws frequently can get them used to the experience and make claw trims easier for you both. Most cats can learn to accept claw trims with minimal trouble, but some may be more receptive to having their claws filed down gently with a nail file. You’ll need to experiment to determine what is best for your cat.

If you see your cat kneading, be reassured that it’s completely natural and normal. If you watch your cat closely and consider the circumstances around their kneading, you may even be able to determine which of the above causes is prompting the behavior. If your cat climbs into your lap and kneads you, then welcome the behavior — but get an extra blanket or two to keep yourself comfortable, too. Chances are, your cat is just showing their affection and making your lap as comfortable a spot as possible for a nap. Keep those claws trimmed to protect your furniture, but otherwise, let your cat satisfy those natural instincts to knead for exercise, to prepare a cozy sleeping spot, and more.

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…
Cat panting: 5 reasons behind this behavior and what you should do about it
Cats pant for all sorts of reasons some of which require medical attention
Close up of a cat sticking out her tongue

Just about any cute dog account on social includes plenty of panting pics. But cat influencers? Not so much. That might cause you to panic a little any time your lovable feline sticks out their tongue or breathes heavily, even when you don't have to worry. Cats can pant, too, and many of the reasons pose no danger. So when should you intervene? We'll cover the five most common sources of cat panting.

Why is my cat panting?
Some kitties never pant at all, which doesn't indicate anything bad. It's not necessary for a lot of cats to pant. On the other hand, certain animals are more likely to breathe heavily on occasion. As always, a sudden change in behavior should mean a trip to the vet, but you may have also just landed an animal that wishes to act like a canine.
Heat
Dogs do it. Humans do it. And yes, cats do it, too. Panting from high temps seems to pervade the animal kingdom. Much of the time, your mouser will be able to cool themselves down by lying in a cold spot until they get back to normal. Sometimes though, cats get heatstroke and need you to intervene (more on that later).
Asthma and respiratory illnesses
In the case of a cat cold, you'll likely notice other symptoms that go along with the panting, like sneezing and coughing. A stuffy kitty could pant to get oxygen to their body. Many illnesses work themselves out, but they might need medicine to help it along. You'll also want to check for asthma, which affects many cats. Your vet will help with the right treatment to manage the condition.
Obstructions
Assuming the foreign object is lodged in their upper digestive tract, you can often find a way to take care of this on your own. Don't ever pull anything out of your cat's throat, though, if they aren't able to remove it with a few coughs. Assuming your animal can breathe well enough, take them to the vet or emergency where a doctor can safely remove the obstruction, sometimes after x-rays to diagnose.
Heart problems
Heart problems often lead to breathing problems. An older cat or one with a previous condition like congestive heart failure might develop some tricky issues. Heartworm can cause some coughing or panting as well, but it's completely treatable when caught early on. Your vet will routinely test your pet for this parasite and you should administer preventative as prescribed.
Pain
If you've ever stubbed your toe and then found yourself trying to breathe through the pain, you'll get why your cat might do this, too. Sadly, this reason nearly always necessitates an immediate trip to the vet or pet ER. The only exception is if you discover a minor injury that explains it and can fix it at home; for example, a thorn in their paw that's easy to remove.

Read more
Why do cats spray? This obnoxious behavior, explained
It's important to understand why cats do this
a ffuffy cat in a cardboard box

Cats can be a curious bunch. They attack the holiday tree annually and stare at you until you start questioning what's happening in their heads. The hijinks may leave you thinking, "Cats, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em."

If you have chosen to shack up with a cat (or keep an indoor-outdoor or solely outdoor kitty), you know you signed up to deal with some potty scooping up. For indoor cats, this means cleaning a litter box. The good news? Cats are pretty reliable about going in the box once trained and not around your home. Why do cats spray, though? You may ask this question if you notice small amounts of urine around your pad. You'll want to get to the root cause (and determine if a cat is spraying in the first place) so you can fix the issue and save your sofa and carpet.

Read more
8 essential tips for disciplining cats
8 Easy and effective tips for training your cat
Two kittens on wooden shelves

Cats may be one of the most popular pets worldwide, but even they have reputations (mostly with non-cat people). Felines are known for indifference, sass, and even attitude. Cartoons, comics, and movies portray them as impossible to reason with, but if you ask a cat owner, they'll assure you cat discipline exists. Here's the catch: you need to know how to discipline your cat -- safely and properly -- for that training to stick. With these seven simple tips and tricks, though, you'll be on your way to perfect feline behavior.

Rule out medical concerns as a cause for misbehavior
Surprising as it sounds, the source of a lot of cat misbehavior has roots in medical conditions. Cats may stop using the litter box, demonstrate new aggression, or start hiding in unexpected places -- all from changes inside their body. So, before you start wondering how to punish your cat, make an appointment with your veterinarian. You may find a medical cause for the behavior. If not, you'll get peace of mind and can move on to further tips on cat discipline.

Read more