Why do cats knead? This is a question we've asked ourselves many times after watching our felines "make biscuits" or "make bread," as some call it. Kneading is one of those quirky cat beahviors that drives us crazy, and it's totally confused animal experts.
What does it mean when a cat kneads?
So, why do cats make biscuits? The most common theory explaining cat kneading is that the behavior is instinctive. Experts believe kittens knead their mother's belly to increase milk flow, so it would appear as though kneading is something cats never outgrow. There's a misconception that cats kneading is the result of being weaned from their mother's milk too early, although this has largely been dispelled by the fact that most adult cats knead, regardless of when they stopped nursing.
Before cats were domesticated and they lived outdoors, they would knead to make a soft bed out of grass for sleeping or giving birth. Now, spoiled kitties everywhere get to lie down in plush cat beds, but they still instinctually knead before settling down for a catnap.
Another explanation for why cats knead is related to the scent glands in their paws. A kneading cat marks his or her territory by leaving behind a unique personal scent, so consider it an honor if your kitty makes biscuits on your tummy. Sure, those claws are going to hurt a bit, but your fur baby is simply saying, "This here is my human." In short, kneading is a simple way your cat shows affection.
Sometimes, female cats will knead as a sign that they're in heat. Keep an eye out for other signs that your cat is ready to mate — like persistent meowing, marking her territory with urine, pacing, being overly affectionate, and assuming the mating position — if you think this is the issue.
What to Do About Cats Kneading
Kitten kneading is pretty darn cute, but it can also be downright painful — especially if your cat kneads with its claws. The obvious solution here would be to clip your cat's nails regularly. We recommend Pet Republique's Professional Nail Clippers ($7.58, Amazon), as they're easy to use and won't splinter your fur baby's nails.
Other options include keeping a blanket or towel nearby to protect your skin. (Choose a piece of fabric you don't use anymore, as your cat's nails will probably tear it up over time.) If your cat's kneading really bothers you, try gently pulling him or her into a sitting position, or introduce a toy as a distraction. It's not appropriate to punish your kitties for kneading because it's a normal cat behavior, so try not to get upset when your cat starts making bread. Instead, simply leave the room for a few minutes or move your cat somewhere else.
In the end, we may never know why exactly cats knead — so perhaps it's best to just accept your little baker's endearing quirk.