Source: Care (Extract)
Posted: February 6, 2024

Here’s why cats knead, plus what it means when a cat makes biscuits on you, according to experts. Spoiler alert: It’s a good thing!

Have you ever watched — or felt — your cat press their front paws against a soft surface then rhythmically extend and contract their tiny toes? If so, you are familiar with every cat’s innate ability to make biscuits, otherwise known as cat kneading. The adorable nickname refers to the movement of the paws, which recalls a baker’s hands kneading dough.

Like cat love bites and cat zoomies, cat kneading is a healthy feline behaviour, yet it can be a little confusing — especially if your cat chooses you as their favourite place to knead. Here, experts explain why cats knead and what it means when your cat makes biscuits.

What is cat kneading?

Kittens knead as part of how they nurse, as it helps their mothers produce milk. Kneading might also release mammary pheromones, or soothing scents that come from their mother’s teat, which keep kittens calm.

Older cats continue to knead even after the nursing stage is over due to a concept known as “neoteny” — when an adult animal continues to pursue behaviours from earlier in life. Put simply, cats enjoy nursing, kneading is associated with it, and they’re apt to carry on doing this thing they enjoy for their entire lives.

Most cats knead several times a day, for several minutes at a time. But some adult cats don’t knead at all, which is also normal and healthy.

What does it mean when cats make biscuits?

Cat kneading is believed to be an instinctive behaviour that our feline friends use for comfort or self-soothing. Depending on your cat’s temperament and environment, though, they can have different motivations for making a warm batch of calming cat biscuits. Here are the most common reasons why cats knead, according to experts.

Cats knead when they’re comfortable

In general, kneading means that your cat is already feeling comfy, or getting there. According to our experts, cats usually seek out warm, soft surfaces to knead when they feel calm — which can include a cosy chair, their favourite person’s lap or even other cuddly pets in the household. Some cats may even be motivated to knead by the texture or scent of a certain material they like. Others are less choosy, and get to work on the nearest object they can find.

Cats knead to calm anxiety or stress

Cats seeking comfort rather than already feeling comfortable may look to kneading as a way of soothing themselves. One way to know if your cat is kneading to soothe anxiety is by taking note of the frequency and length of their biscuit-making sessions. These can usually last for a few minutes, or even just a few seconds, depending on the cat and their usual habits. However, when a cat is anxious or stressed, they may knead more often or for extended periods.

If your cat’s kneading habits increase or decrease, or your cat is kneading to the exclusion of other behaviours like lounging, playing, grooming, sleeping or eating, it’s a good idea to consult a vet.

Cats make biscuits to get ready for bed — or another nap

Cats love kneading before they go to sleep or rest — with soft surfaces a particular favourite. Pre-nap cat kneading is just like dogs scratching and turning to nest. And since it’s normal for cats to sleep 15 hours a day, it’s really no wonder why cat owners are so familiar with the feline art of biscuit making!

Cats knead to spread their scent

Cats may also knead to leave their scent in the area, similar to when they rub their cheeks on objects to mark them. Leaving behind scent marks is part of a cat’s territorial management, or how cats claim a certain area as their own. Along with kneading, felines have a variety of ways to do this, including scratching and urine marking.

Like their cheeks, a cat’s front paws have scent glands, or glands that contain pheromones which are unique to that cat. Spreading their scent around their surroundings helps give cats a sense of comfort and confidence as they move around their living space, and owners should facilitate this.

Why do cats knead on their owners?

Cat kneading can be a way of marking territory. Scent is an important factor — and cats who knead in a household where there are multiple moggies may be using the practice to show the others they have you all to themselves. Comfort is another motivation: some felines find nowhere more soothing after a stressful day or on a chilly night than their owner’s lap, where they may indulge in a little kneading if they feel particularly cosy.

So what should you do if your cat likes to make biscuits on you? As long as you and your cat are happy, simply sit back and enjoy this quality time together — and soak up the attention and affection from your adored pet.

Why do cats knead then bite?

Cat kneading can make pets feel incredibly soothed and comforted. It can be so relaxing, in fact, that it can be coupled with drooling or even cat love bites, which can be brought on in moments when cats feel a strong sense of bonding. Your furry friend may gently take part of your nearest body part in their mouth — a normal behaviour.

Instinct may also be coming into play if your cat kneads then bites. As kneading was once associated with nursing and feeding, the lines between behaviours may become blurred for your pet. 

However, it’s important to remember that love bites are playful, and they do not break the skin, according to experts. If your cat is biting harder while kneading, these are more likely causes:

Your cat is overstimulated. Cats using kneading to help calm them down when they feel stressed may find the extra stimulation of being touched difficult in the moment.

Your cat wants to be left alone. Some cats simply prefer to make biscuits by themselves, without distraction or interaction.

Your cat is getting distracted. If cats are prevented from carrying out their kneading, they can become frustrated, which may lead to mouthing or biting.

Your cat is anxious. Some cats may bite harder during kneading as a sign that they are stressed or in pain. See a vet if you notice your cat kneading too frequently or for long periods as well as biting.

What should you do when a cat kneads?

Less is more: if your cat starts kneading, as a rule, it’s a good idea to stay as you are. Interrupting this comforting practice for your pet may cause them some angst, and behavioural issues may crop up.

However, if your cat’s biscuit making has started to include unwanted behaviour, or they are at risk of hurting someone or something with their claws, experts recommend that cat owners step in. Here are their best tips for keeping things under control when a cat is kneading:

Keep your cat’s nails trimmed

When cats are making biscuits, they often grip with their toes, but they typically do not extend their nails. However, it’s still a good idea to keep their nails trimmed to protect soft surfaces, especially if they like to knead on your skin. If you’re experiencing any discomfort from your cat’s kneading behaviour, you can also try placing a thick blanket between their paws and your skin.

Create a space specifically for making cat biscuits

If your cat’s kneading is causing damage to an item such as a piece of furniture or bedding, putting a blanket over the area to protect it or redirecting them to a whole new location can help. If your kitty’s favourite spot to knead seems to be a beloved cushion or luxury leather sofa, find a substitute they’re just as likely to enjoy, such as a relaxing heating pad or an item made from a similar fabric that you don’t mind getting a few marks here and there. That way, your cat can knead and you can enjoy some peace of mind.

Reward your cat for kneading in a new safe spot

If you’re trying to redirect a cat to knead somewhere else, reward your desired behaviour with praise, cuddles and treats. Kneading can be just as integral to a cat’s regular routine as sleeping or eating, and it is neither kind nor realistic to expect your beloved pet to give this up if it’s a little inconvenient for you.

Speak to a vet if you notice aggression

Some cats get overexcited during kneading, especially if you’re petting them. Some cat owners may find this playful energy spills over into aggression. It’s worth consulting a vet or cat trainer to learn ways of keeping this behaviour at bay.

Ultimately, kneading is a healthy way cats signal that they are comfortable, getting ready to nap or would like to feel more relaxed in their environment. Creating the right conditions for your cat to knead can be crucial to a healthy, happy life for your beloved friend.