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Knead to Know: Understanding Your Cat’s Biscuit-Making Behavior

Close up of abyssinian kitten licking bearded man's nose. Love relationship, friendship between human and cat. Pets care. World cat day. Selective focus.

Cats are quirky little creatures with lots of unique habits, from pushing things off shelves and playing with a piece of yarn for hours to sitting in cardboard boxes and racing around the house with a case of the midnight zoomies. And honestly, that’s why we love them! But one of our favorite feline traits? Biscuit making, aka cat kneading. You know the behavior- your cat is zoned out, drooling, and pushing their paws down into your lap, seemingly content and blissfully relaxed.

Making biscuits is cute, comical, and common in most cats. Why do they do it, though? What does it mean? It might seem pretty simple on the surface, but there’s a whole complex world of science and instinct behind your cat’s happy paws.

What is Kneading?

Also known as making biscuits, playing the piano, muffin-making, working the dough, happy paws, or mashing potatoes, kneading is when cats push their paws down on a soft surface, alternating each one—like kneading the dough before putting it into the oven. It’s a common behavior in both male and female cats, but not all cats knead. Some cats use their claws, and others don’t. Some knead their humans, and some stick to softer surfaces like blankets or the carpet. They might purr, have a zoned-out expression on their faces, or even start drooling while kneading. It all depends on your furry loaf!

Why Do Cats Make Biscuits?

Depending on your cat’s temperament and environment, they can have different motivations for making a warm batch of calming cat biscuits. Unfortunately, none of them are related to dreams of making it big as a professional baker (that we know of).

Callback to Kittenhood Contentment

At its core, kneading is a natural behavior that cats do when they’re feeling content and comfortable, and it stems from kittenhood. When kittens nurse, they instinctively knead their mom’s belly to help stimulate the milk flow. Even as they grow up, cats often keep this habit, because it reminds them of that warm, safe feeling from when they were little. And since kneading is linked to feeding, lots of adult cats will drool or chew on blankets or other soft things while they’re making biscuits. It’s kind of like how human babies suck their thumbs when they’re relaxed.

Unpacking the Instinctual Side

Does your kitty cat love to make biscuits on their bed, blankets, or other comfy things they come across? Beyond comfort, kneading also has other deep-rooted instinctual origins: they’re making their bed. Some speculate that kneading is a behavior passed down from our cats’ bigger, undomesticated ancestors. When these cats searched for the perfect napping nook in the wild, they would paw at the area to make sure nothing dangerous or uncomfortable was hidden in the leaves. Even though our house cats don’t have to build nests like wild animals, that instinct is still in their genes. Think of it as their way of fluffing up the pillows and blankets before settling into bed.

A Good Stretch for Stress Relief

Cats, just like humans, find comfort in repetitive activities like kneading. It’s their way of soothing themselves. The back-and-forth motion helps release tension and anxiety, making it a natural stress reliever for our feline friends. The movements cats make with their toes and paws are a way to stretch and get a mini-paw massage. It enhances flexibility and feels good. If you’ve ever had a hand massage, you’ll understand.

Claiming What’s Theirs

For cats, what’s theirs is theirs, and they have certain ways of making this known to other animals—especially other felines. Cats have scent glands in their paw pads, and kneading can help them leave their scent and mark their territory, using the scent glands in their paws to say, “This is mine!”

And it’s not just physical objects or spaces that cats claim as their own. They also have a way of letting you know that you, their human companion, belong to them too. If your cat makes biscuits in your lap, it’s their way of marking you with their scent and claiming you as part of their territory. This can help them feel reassured that they’re safe and secure and serves to make it known that, whether you like it or not, you’re officially their human!

They Like You…A Lot

Despite the “aloof cat” stereotype, our felines are very expressive animals, and kneading is one way they show their feelings. Cats who feel a special bond with their caretakers often look to their laps for comfort and love. Whether they’re happy, chill, or need to feel safe, kneading lets your cat communicate without words, expressing affection and contentment to affirm and strengthen their bond with their favorite human.

Pay attention to your cat’s body language when they’re kneading – it can give you a peek into their mood and emotions, and help you bond even closer with your feline pal. The back-and-forth motion is really calming for both of you, making for a little moment of connection. It almost feels like their version of a kitty massage, complete with purring.

Love Hurts? Not Anymore: Managing Your Cat’s Happy Paws

Sometimes your cat may just love you so much that it hurts, literally, and not everyone enjoys being the “dough”, especially when claws are involved. Your cat’s kneading may be bothersome or even damaging to your blankets, sofa cushions, or clothing at times.  Your best course of action is to keep your cat’s claws trimmed, but here are a few other ways to manage your cat’s happy paws.

  • Gently remove them from your lap and redirect their attention when the kneading gets too enthusiastic.
  • Cover your lap with a blanket so your cat’s claws don’t scratch you.
  • Designate a special blanket or pillow for kneading using a pheromone spray to make it attractive.

Let’s be real, whatever the reason, it’s hard not to find their happy paws charming, even if you end up with a few (unintentional) scratches. So, the next time your cat is going to town making biscuits in your lap or on your favorite sweater, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. It’s all part of their charm and feline mystique!

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By Annie Turner

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