Why Do Cats Knead on People?

Posted on 01 Dec 2015 01:46 by EricT

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You're sitting on the sofa on a cold day with a blanket and your favorite feline pal. They climb onto the blanket and begin to push their front paws in and out on the blanket, in a repetitive motion. while she does this, she purrs contentedly. As we say in the South, your cat is "making biscuits," otherwise known as kneading. Why do cats do this?

Cats will perform this kneading action on any soft surface. Blankets are a typical target, but a soft pillow, or, of course, a nice cuddly human, will do as well. Cats often jump onto their human's lap and have a kneading session, contentedly digging their paws into your lap for a while, before settling down for a lap nap, after which the human will obediently sit still while the emperor or empress enjoys their sleep.

Kneading is Related to Nursing

Kneading is actually a behavior that hearkens back to your cat's kittenhood. When kittens nurse at mother's teats, they will use their front paws to knead the milk sac, pushing forward against the teat, and pulling back, in a rhythmic motion, so as to stimulate the flow of milk. This may also help to push mom's skin away from the kitten's nose, allowing them to breath better while nursing.

It is undoubtedly a pleasurable experience, and this memory seems to stick with many cats throughout their life. You will notice that the kneading often seems to be centered around you. They are probably attracted by the warmth and are feeling "kittenish," remembering the warm, pleasurable experience of nursing. Often, they will produce saliva and drool a bit while doing so, as if they are anticipating the flow of milk. Still, a cat may knead away from you, using any soft surface, especially if it is something they sleep on, like their cushion. Some cats will keep their nose close to the surface they are kneading, or even suckle on the material.


kitten nursing and kneading at milk sac

Kitten Nursing and Kneading at Mom's Milk Sac


Why People?

When cats do this, they are obviously contended and feeling pleasure. It is also a trustful and affectionate act. It is often said, then, that you cat your sees you as a mother figure. We cannot possible know what a cat is thinking, and why they knead on people, but it is fairly clear that they kneading is not a bad thing! It seems to be soothing and cats do not knead on people they do not completely trust. It may be painful when claws are long, but it should be taken as a compliment.

However, to confuse matters, female cats in heat will often exhibit kneading behavior. And, a cat will knead with their paws before marking with urine.

Do Cats Knead Because They're Happy?

We cannot know if happiness and affection causes a cat to knead, or if the kneading behavior itself makes them happy. Likely, it is a little bit of both, with a feeling of warmth and contentedness being accompanied by kneading, which further reinforces the feeling of happiness.

Why Don't All Cats Knead?

It is often assumed that kneading is a universal cat behavior, but not all cats do it. It is more prevalent in cats that are "weaned," or taken off breast-feeding, early. Simply speaking, such cats may never get over breast-feeding. They didn't quite grow out of it. Some cats who knead also will attempt to suckle on blankets, clothing, or even on your exposed skin.

Keep in mind that any of these behaviors can occur in isolation. A cat may suckle without kneading. Or, he may purr and drool while rubbing his face all over your face, without kneading.

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