Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

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Updated by  Dr. Lizzie Youens BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS
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Image depicting cats kneading their owners, a behavior that showcases affection, comfort, and a strong bond between feline and human.

Cats are notorious for being ornery, aloof, and sometimes just plain weird. They exhibit a variety of behaviors that don’t always make sense to us cat owners, but we love them anyway. One of these strange behaviors is ‘making biscuits’ – what’s that all about?

Kneading is a repetitive, rhythmic motion during which cats will push their paws into and out of a soft surface, alternating between paws. Cats love to knead on soft surfaces like blankets, pillows, plush carpeting, a person’s lap, or a couch. Though every cat is different, most exhibit kneading behavior at one time or another.

As is true for many cat behaviors, no one knows exactly why cats knead but there are a few theories, from affection to territory marking, stretching to soothing.

Also Read: 8 Reasons Your Cat Is Pawing And How To Help

Cat Kneading Explained

Kneading is adorable and fascinating to watch. Plus, cats can get so relaxed that their jaws become slack and they start to drool! Kneading is an instinctive behavior in cats that begins soon after birth. Though the exact reason for kneading is unknown, animal experts have a few theories.

1. To Stimulate the Flow of Milk During Nursing

Kneading begins very early in kittenhood, and it’s thought that the ‘making biscuits’ action helps stimulate milk production from the mother’s teat. For some, this behavior continues to adulthood, with cats kneading their owners in reminiscence of their days as a kitten. Your lap is just as warm as their mother’s belly was, so your adult cat could be kneading on you to relive the comfort and security of the time they spent nursing.

2. To Relax

Cats may use this rhythmic movement to soothe themselves, especially after a stressful situation. With the behavior rooted in kittenhood, this repetitive behavior may be a calming activity for cats and a way to release tension. It is often observed that cats knead right before they settle down to sleep.

3. To Stretch Muscles After a Nap

The physical motion of kneading is repetitive and may help cats stretch out after a period of inactivity, such as a nap. Some cats will use only the front paws to knead, while others use all four paws – it can be a bit of a work out!

4. To Prepare a Space Before Sleeping or Giving Birth

Some animal experts suggest the behavior of kneading began with wild female cats – that kneading was involved in preparing nests among tall grass and leaves before giving birth or for the purpose of resting after a day of hunting. This may explain why cats love to knead you if you’re wearing something soft, like a sweatshirt, woolen shawl, or any other soft and supple fabric. These types of materials make great sleeping surfaces. The same way you’d fluff up your pillows and blankets before napping, cats do the same by kneading them.

5. To Mark That Cat’s Territory

Another potential reason for kneading has to do with territorial behavior. Cats have scent glands in their paws, so kneading imparts some of the cat’s personal scent onto the area they’re kneading, effectively marking it as their “territory.” If your cat kneads at you, it’s a compliment – they want to make sure other cats know that you belong to them!

6. Affection

In a similar vein to territorial marking, cats may knead at their owners or other cats out of pure love! Kittens knead at their mothers, with whom they share a strong bond, and this behavior can become linked with trust, love and affection. Take it as a compliment and give a sign of love back, such as a slow blink or a head rub.

7. Attention

Cats may knead out of love, but they may also swiftly learn that making biscuits with their claws on your lap leads to a bit of a reaction! Some cats knead with claws retracted, but others keep them out – ouch!

8. To Indicate a Readiness to Mate

There are some theories that kneading is involved in hormonal and mating behaviors between cats.

Also Read: Why Doesn’t My Cat Knead?

Tips for Cat Parents

Sweet image of a cat kneading its owner's lap, illustrating the intimate connection and contentment between the cat and its human companion.

Some owners enjoy their cat kneading on them, but it can be uncomfortable if claws aren’t retracted.

Not all cats are the cuddly type, but those who are can often be found curled up in their owner’s lap. If you have a lap cat, you’ve likely experienced kneading up close and personal. If your cat likes to extend their claws when kneading, though, this adorable behavior could end up becoming uncomfortable or even painful for you.

Some suggest that a cat kneading its owner is a sign of affection and flattery. The cat is basically saying it really loves you and enjoys your company. Even so, kneading can become bothersome or even a hassle if your cat wants to knead on you all the time. There’s also the possibility that kneading can become painful if your cat doesn’t retract his claws.

Also Read: New Cat Owner Anxiety: Why It Happens & How To Overcome It

So, how do we become more comfortable with kneading?

Redirect to Another Surface

If you don’t want your cat to knead on you or on the furniture, try to gently pick them up and place them on another surface, such as their own bed or a soft blanket. Be consistent, placing them onto the same place each time, so that they learn that this particular bed or blanket is the correct place to knead when they want to perform this behavior. You can use pheromone sprays such as Feliway products to encourage your cat to knead on other more appropriate surfaces.


You can direct your cat’s behavior by distracting them with a toy or treat. When your cat starts to knead, offer the treat or toy – eventually, your cat should start favoring the new behavior.

Minimize the Discomfort

Kneading is often an affectionate behavior, and many owners are caught between being loath to deter it, but still needing to ensure they aren’t being accidentally hurt by sharp claws. Have a thick blanket handy and place it on your lap when you’re sitting down so your cat can safely knead the blanket without hurting you. It’s also good practice to keep your cat’s nails trimmed to prevent them from hooking on clothing or hurting you.

Don’t Shout!

Captivating image of a cat kneading with its paws, a behavior that reflects comfort, nostalgia, and a sense of security.

Cats have scent glands in their paws, so kneading imparts some of the cat’s personal scent onto the area they’re kneading.

It’s understandable that kneading can be uncomfortable and therefore cause some irritation to cat owners. However, it’s important that you never punish your cat for kneading. Kneading is an instinctive behavior for cats, and some are highly motivated to perform it. Punishment will cause stress and anxiety to your cat, and should always be avoided.

Cats knead for a variety of reasons. It’s a common behavior, and one that many cats seem highly motivated to perform. It might even be a real compliment of the trust and love your cat has for you! Unless the kneading behavior is truly bothersome, try letting your cat knead in peace and try to enjoy it.

Also Read: 8 Reasons You Should Never Punish Your Cat

Relevant Articles:

Frequently Asked Questions

Is my cat’s kneading normal?

Yes, kneading is a natural behavior for cats. Though we may not know exactly why they do it, it’s a behavior we see in wild cats which suggests domestic cats inherited the instinct from their wild ancestors.

Should you let your cat knead?

Kneading is an instinctive behavior for cats, and should be allowed unless it’s causing undue discomfort or damage. If you want to stop it, try distraction or redirecting onto a safe surface. Never punish your cat for kneading.

Why do cats knead and bite blankets?

It all comes down to instinctive behavior rooted in kittenhood. Kneading and suckling behavior mimics what your cat would have done while nursing. It's a form of comforting behavior that usually means that your cat feels cozy and safe.

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41 thoughts on “Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?”

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    1. Charles

      Thank you for an enjoyable and interesting article. Until I was adopted by a wonderful black cat, who bears the name Covington, I considered myself a dog person. Now I’m a cat’s person.
      Covington follows very specific routines, on if which is kneading. However he always does so after he sleeps, not before.

  1. Shiralee Barrow

    Hi my cat also neads me also with her back paws and with a flick out with one back paw with eyes blacked out I call it blissing out its so gentle I do have tummy problems and watch her carefully feeding around and surching in different spots and really working on them it is so cute I feel very privileged I do believe she understands something wrong in my tummy.

    1. Cindy

      Hi there! One of my cats in particular kneads me a lot and it seems as though he is really trying to help me. He looks so wise and caring like a little masseur! Also, he doesn’t do it with his claws so I just feel the massage part of it. I always thank him and give him lots of scratches and pets afterward so I’m sure that let’s him know I like it.

  2. Jo Ann

    Makes sense! Thank you. I have a new kitten and he kneads all over me, rubs, rolls on me…he loves me! My year old boy (cat) was never this affectionate, so this a huge change.

  3. Mads

    My cat I raised and bottle fed when he was a little baby. He was a feral cat that I took in along with his siblings. The one I speak of has extreme kneading problems. I’ve had cats that do this but not on the level he does. Whenever he’s near me he will try to get close and squeeze on to my lap or whatever and knead my freaking skin out. I might have to cut his claws because he kneads hard and deep and doesn’t mind doing it on my skin, in fact that’s what he always aims for is my skin even when I put his paws somewhere else he ends up back at my bare skin. He’ll constantly move and knead to the point where I always have to kick him out of bed because it’s a actual problem and I can’t sleep or do whatever I’m trying to do. I know the kitties love me because I was the one who raised them but I wish this guy would settle down and chill out a bit lol cuz I wouldnt mind him chilling and laying with me but he can never just do that. He can go all day kneading me non stop and constantly moving around pushing up all over me. Idk what to do I think he knows I don’t like him doing it on my skin and just doesn’t care.

    1. jean grey

      Teehee, so sweet.

      I had the same problem with my kitty. Something I did was condition her to learn the word, “careful!” Anytime she kneads too hard with her claws, I gently say “CAREful, CAREful!” as I hold her little paws in my hand and rub them gently. Over 2-3 weeks, she began to understand what it meant, and she always adjusts mindfully to just using her paws, not claws.

      My girl still gets crazy while kneading, using her claws almost violently– it’s not her fault, she just gets really into it. I always react and even exaggerate a jumpy motion and say softly, “Ouch, kitten, ouchies!” and of course, “CAREful, kitten, CAAAREful.”

      I enlarge my eyes, smiling, while I say “Ouchies,” and “CAREful;” and when she notices and becomes more gentle, I blink my eyes slowly at her and say, “thaaaaank you, kitten.” She totally understands me.

      They are unbelievable communicators: so receptive, intuitive, and they always respond to kindness with kindness and understanding. It’s all about talking to your crazy boy nicely, and also expression through your eyes. He will learn what pain looks like if you express it with your eyes and your language, especially tone of voice. And, always a soft, “thaaank youu,” is like a reward to them.

  4. Paul Matthews

    My cat gives me a free massage every morning. He kneads with all four feet going from my neck down to my lower back, up and down, purring loudly the whole time. . This can go on for 10-15 minutes some days. It’s hysterical and feels great. I’m not sure where he went to massage school, but he’s good! A great way to wake up.

    1. Darca

      Maddie, my beautiful rescue Maine Coons, does the same thing everytime I lay down for nap. It is so loving and gentle I take it as a sign of affection and because of the scent glands on her paws I take it as her marking her ownership of me. This gentle giant only does it to me.

    1. Hope

      I really enjoy her kneading . Actaually I invite her to do it. So gentle and soothing, never uses her claws . Bless my cat zelda

  5. Marina L

    Please do not recommend trimming a cat’s nails. It causes them a lifetime of pain. They are animals with feelings not just toys to be modified for human comfort.

    1. Beach Blonde

      The poster said “TRIM” the cat’s nails, not “surgically remove”.

      You’re talking about surgical removal. Trimming a cat’s nails can be a critical part of health and grooming, especially for indoor cats that don’t encounter enough rough surfaces &/or use scratching posts to keep their nails properly trimmed and slightly rounded/dull on their own.

    2. Meg L.

      Absolutely AGREE! Trimming is NECESSARY. I have an indoor kitty and 2 indoor/outdoor kitties. My indoor kitty will start pulling at his own claws when they start getting too sharp and too long if I do not trim them. BEFORE we found out that removing a cat’s claws was really bad for them (like 30 years ago) I had my first kitty’s claws removed (she was an indoor kitty as well – would have never done it had she been an outdoor cat or had I known what we know now) and thank god she lived for 23 years!!! However, absolutely DO NOT recommend, nor do I know of any veterinarians, that will fully “declaw” a cat in this day and age.
      Also, trimming is necessary due to that if your kitty feels the need to bite it or pull it off (1) it could break off and be swallowed by your kitty (not healthy for the digestive system), or (2) split and cause an immense amount of pain for your kitty, which would make it extremely difficult to cut the nail at that point without hitting the quik which would cause bleeding. So keeping them neatly trimmed is ABSOLUTELY BEST!! 🙂

    3. Meg L.

      P.S. My kitty always kneads me before taking a nice nap, I keep his nails trimmed, however he likes to keep them sharp with the scratching post I provide. LOL 🙂 So I keep a blanket between he and I. But it’s the sweetest thing in the world. I’ve had him since he was 4 weeks old and since I work from home, all we do is spend all day together…currently we are in a LONG process of attempting to potty train (and yes I meant POTTY TRAIN) like the real POTTY! He is litterbox trained…but we thought we’d give it a shot and we are over halfway there! It does work and I would never go back! So just a little tip – if you have a kitten or the patience and time – try it out!! There’s a training kit on Amazon – Check it out! Good luck!

    4. James Y

      Yes, I agree Marina. A cat’s nails are the only source of defence that they have. If you trim them to make them blunt, they may feel defenseless and helpless. I have experienced this before. After we trimmed the nails, Simba immediately ran away under the master bed to hide from my little brother (Who doesn’t know how to bond with a cat).

    5. James Y

      Yes, I agree Marina. A cat’s nails are the only source of weapons that they have to defend themselves. If you trim them to make them blunt, they may feel defenseless and helpless. I have experienced this before. After we trimmed the nails, Simba immediately ran away under the master bed to hide from my little brother (Who doesn’t know how to bond with a cat).

  6. Carolyn

    What are you saying? Trimming a cat’s nails is perfectly fine, it’s like when you get your nails trimmed. You’re confusing trimming with surgical removal… Trimming doesn’t do them a bit of harm could you may want to reword your comment

  7. Ellen Becerra

    My cat Dulce does her kneading on me. She always go the spot where I had hip surgery. She must sense the pains and aches and feels she is helping me as well as herself. She is so loving but is reluctant to be a lap cat. Love her

  8. Heidi Blake

    We have a sweet boy kitty that we just adopted 5 months ago. He is 8 years old, declawed, (he came that way, I wouldn’t ever declaw a cat). His original family was moving away and for some reason they weren’t able to take him with them. That’s a hard one for me to understand but at least they loved him enough to take him to our local SPCA and actually pay a fee for them to rehome him. He was in the system about a week and a half. I have had many cats in my 55 years but this kitty sure is different than most, in a great way! For a cat that was taken out of his life long home and at a shelter for a week before coming to our home, he sure adjusted quickly. Like in a couple of hours, lol! It’s just the two of us, my sweetie, Bud and I, no children and no other animals (I’m sure that helped him adjust). He is extremely vocal, and loves conversation. He is also the most confident cat I have ever met. He is also the tallest cat I have ever met! His legs, tail, and body are all extremely long! When he is walking beside me his tail almost touches my hip! When he stands on his hind legs he can reach everything on the table, he can reach everything on the vanity in the bathroom, and believe me he helps himself, especially anything that is liquid that he can spill – on purpose! Anyway, we are talking about the kneading thing. I have had many cats that do this and I think it’s sweet too. My sweetie Bud, is 69 years old and has never had a cat in his life! He had lots of dogs but never a cat. I’m at home quite a bit alone because I have Lupus, and a bunch of back surgeries. I haven’t worked since I was 40. With an extremely bad back and nerve damage, I don’t go for many car rides, or shopping trips, since I can’t stand for more than 5 minutes or so and walking around a store would be miserable. I’m pretty happy to be around the house, the aggravations that go along with lupus also help to keep me at home. We decided to get a cat for me because Bud likes to play golf with his son, and he is also a bit more social than I am, so he feels bad leaving me home alone. (What he doesn’t know, something all women in our 50’s know, is that no matter how much we love our spouses – we love when they get out of the house for the afternoon or even the evening a couple days a week – especially when they are retired and home 24/7). But, hey! I love all animals and for the 10 years that we have been together he has said no animals, due to him thinking at the beginning of our living together that because we are retired there would be travel in our future together. Well, I could have cleared that up for him at the beginning if he would have mentioned it to me – this girl does not travel! Only if it’s absolutely necessary! And necessary doesn’t mean let’s travel for a vacation! It goes along with the lupus life, traveling to me is like getting a root canal! So, since he thought a cat would be a good idea for me, I jumped (well in my heart, but not my body, lol) for joy! I had decided we would look for a mature or senior cat. Let people that need kittens have the kittens, I wanted a kitty that needed us as much as we needed him or her. So, this big (not fat) long cat (about 18#) came to live with us, and within a couple hours, he owned us and the house. When it was time for bed he ran into the bedroom once we had climbed into bed and wiggled himself right in between us! And ………………started the kneading game with Bud. Bud thought it was the funniest thing, he had never seen a cat or any animal do that! He called it marching! He really liked it at first, he didn’t know cats could actually show that they liked someone. He thought they were all either aloof or scaredy cats, and he thought cats were….Dumb! I was almost offended when I heard him say that the first time! Well, Bud and His cat Buddy Jr. now have quite the bromance! They just love each other. Bud is a retired mechanic, a sweet man, but kind of a tough guy. Buddy and Bud play all through the house! Bud chases Buddy through the house and then Buddy chases him back, but when Buddy catches Bud it’s all out body slam time. Or he will sit back and wait and jump from the floor to Bud’s shoulder with that body slam and a big yoowl!! It’s too funny! Anyway, Buddy does his kneading every night. But there is one thing we have noticed and It’s actually something I have never encountered before with any cat I have ever had. Buddy gets going on the kneading, he’s purring, and pumping on Bud’s tummy, then he starts moving his back half around a bit. He sort of starts to knead with his back feet, but not quite. As I am watching from the side – what I see is a cat that looks kind of like he is positioning his back legs to urinate. It alarmed me a bit the first few times I saw it because I didn’t want him to pee on his new dad because that definitely might hurt their bromance. Well, he isn’t going to urinate, but his next move is to sit back like he is going to bathe, his privates. He does a bit of that, just a couple seconds, then out comes his penis, barbs and all. He licks it a bit, he seems really happy doing this. I’m really not trying to be juvenile about this but I have never seen a cat do this in my life! After he gets done with whatever it is he is doing he is ready to get comfy for the night and go to sleep! I’m not quite sure what to tell Bud about this behavior but I don’t really want him to talk about it with anybody else because they may get the wrong idea! You know men, they can get kind of guttery in their talk. He talks to Buddy about it like he’s talking to another man, lol! Please realize there is no sexual stimuli for us at all, just bad manly humor emoting from the man I thought was such a sweet gentleman!! I guess boys will be boys, even if they are almost 70 years old! Seriously, though has anybody ever seen or heard of this behavior in a male cat? I am really out of my league on this one. Thanks!

    1. Lisa Simicon

      My cat does something similar and weird.. he kneads on a really soft blanket with his front paws while standing on my leg when we are laying down before bed. He then twitches his whole body. At first I just thought he was flicking his tail but it’s s not just that, it goes thru his whole body, like he was just zapped or something! And it’s exactly every 3-4 seconds. He’s neutered. When he’s done kneading, he sits back and cleans himself like he just had an orgasm! Sorry to sound so graphic, but that’s what it looks like? Anyone hear of this? I’ll record him next time and share. It’s just the weirdest thing!! I’ve never seen any of the many many cats I’ve owned do this!

    2. Sheila H.

      My male neutered cat does something very similar. He straddles my arm and kneads with his front paws and wiggles his back. Then he lays down on my arm and continues kneading in this trance state. When he finishes he jumps down and licks himself. It’s good to know that other cats do something similar. I let him do what he wants. This is his way of telling me he loves and adores me. So I let him bond with me. Which is an important part of our daily routine.

    3. Jack

      Seriously? That is so weird. Lol. I have encountered a similar cat behavior like this tho. When my cat James jr (named after my bro), came onto my body and began kneading me. But after kneading for about 30 seconds, he raised his back feet like he was gonna wee on me, but then starts to kick me softly on my leg.

  9. Tonnie Moon

    Thanks for this, I had no idea what Sherman was doing! I called it “stepping” but he keeps this blank look on his face, I was a little worried!
    Thanks for the reassurrance, much appreciated!

  10. Evalyn Charalambous

    I just adopted 2 little rescue kittens, brother and sister. My little girl gives you a quick gentle knead then settles but my boy kneads me with all his might and always on my skin. He gets up into my neck with his paws on either side and his head tucked under my chin and away he goes like there is no tomorrow. If I move him to my clothes he just comes straight back. It takes him a good 15 minutes or so to decide I’m done, then he lies across my neck and finally sleeps. I had to clip his claws to cope. I just took the very tips. He can still climb so all is well.

  11. GGof9

    This is so interesting! We have a male cat that loves to knead us…especially my husband. I suspected it was inherent from when he was a kitten nursing his mother. I never realized it was a way they show affection and mark their spot on their favorite humans. 🙂

    1. Mystic

      I have male cat that loves to knead on me. He had a sister (unfortunately she died) that also loved kneading. This is the first time I’ve seen such behaviour. As soon as I laid down on my bed, both of them started knead on me (on my back and my neck), purring, then fell asleep not long after. But they’ve never done this to my sister or my mom, only me. I think it’s because I’m the one who always take care of them.

  12. mckenzie

    i’ve noticed that my new cat is kneading a lot, he comes and kneads on my arms, then my boyfriends arms or chest and of course the blanket and mattress. but my other cat that we’ve had for so long has never done it before and it seems like he gets up on the bed to cuddle but he smells the new cat and just leaves. what can i do to make him stay?

    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta

      Hi McKenzie, this is a fun question. You may just have to wait for your cat to get comfortable with the presence of the new kitty in the home. You might also have to develop a new routine. My cat, Wessie, for example, doesn’t feel comfortable hanging out on the bed when Forest is present, so they have to alternate snuggle times or spend time in separate locations. I know it’s not a satisfying answer, but I think that you’re just going to have to wait and see on this one. You can also get help from the All About Cats community. Our behavior experts and fellow cat guardians might be able to give you some more insight. All the best, Mallory

  13. Alex

    Kneading is a very weird habit of cats. My cat, Simba loves kneading my stomach when I lie down to relax on the couch. However she has never used her claws to knead me. It is always her pads so she cannot hurt me and I am grateful for that. I’m pretty sure that she wants to mark me as her territory because she kneads usually for around 20 minutes to make sure I have her scent. The she runs off. I know this because she also doesn’t want my other cats to play with me for a long time.

    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta

      Ooh, good question! Cats generally stand on people’s feet to get their attention, keep them in place, or perhaps even to get some warmth from you. In general, this is a good sign that your girlfriend’s cat is fond of you. Oh, and if he does it more to you than her, congratulations: you can now announce that her cat likes you better than her!

  14. Nancy Nelson

    We have a cat that kneads also but at bed time now the male cat will knead the bed standing up with his back paws on your shin then kick with it this is something new. Why does this happen. Some times and he will just be standing in the room on the floor and all of a sudden he will just kick one of his back leg a couple of times.

    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta

      Good observation—this is a common marking behavior that often accompanies spraying. Sometimes cats who are neutered will continue to do this as a habitual behavior. You’re fortunate that your cat doesn’t actually spray while doing it, and as long as there are no other signs of stress, discomfort, or any destructive behaviors, it’s nothing to worry about.

  15. Margie

    My orange tabby has been kneading since we adopted him. He has a nightly ritual where while I’m sitting on the coach with a blanket he’ll knead and purr, but like others said, he goes into a trance like behavior. If I go to pet him he makes a weird “back off meow” like it’s ruining his “zen” experience to be touched so I learned to just let him do his thing. The one thing I noticed is he will get his face closer and closer to mine though, like he wants me to acknowledge he’s there. So I usually give him loving half blinking looks and just let him know he’s loved. It’s actually very comforting for me to, as he’s not a super snuggly cat, so it’s nice to see the affection and happiness.