Making Belly Biscuits: Why Do Cats Knead People?

Close-up of cat paws.

If you are the proud owner of a whiskered friend, one of the best ways to know they’re happy is that tale-tell purr. A warm lap on a cold day, and your cat will be in heaven. Another blissful thing most felines like to do is knead. You know, “making biscuits” or that back-and-forth kneading that is akin to working dough for homemade bread. 

Our cat companions have a wide range of curious behaviors, but many cat owners wonder why cats knead people? You’re in luck! The team at East Sacramento Veterinary Center is here to explain.

Why Do Cats Knead?

This adorable behavior is common in most cats. Not all of them do it in the same way or with the same frequency. You probably have noticed that your cat, while not kneading your lap, will knead the bed, pillows, and other cushy things. 

There is a lot of speculation as to why cats do this pulsating motion. Here are some of the more viable reasons.

  1. It’s an instinctual behavior formed at kittenhood. Young kittens nurse and this means that they need to paw at the teat area to get milk flowing. This pleasant memory is replicated later in the motion of kneading. It can make a cat feel safe and secure, just like they did with their mama.
  2. They’re creating a bed. Wild cats will forage and move around leaves, debris, pine needles, and other materials to make a warm nest. This action can help burrow a space for them to maintain seclusion, safety, and warmth.
  3. It marks their turf. Cats will scratch and paw at the ground in the wild as a way of marking territory. This signals to other cats, through scent and claw marks, that they have been there and “do not trespass”.
  4. They love you. When your cat is feeling extra cuddly, don’t they often want to partake in some paddy-pat on your lap? This is usually accompanied by purrs and calls to be petted. It’s their way of saying, “I love you the best.”
  5. If they haven’t been spayed, it’s the signal to mate. Female cats go into heat or oestrus when they haven’t been sexually altered. This kneading is a way to signal to males that she is ready to mate.

Sometimes, the behavior can become a compulsion in cats who are ill, have problems with cognition due to old age, or have anxiety. If the kneading becomes chronic, call us for an examination to ensure your kitty is in good health.

Mind the Claws

In an effort to win your love, those adoration pats turn into claw marks. If your cat likes to knead, you can visibly see it on fabrics, including your clothing. The best way to keep items from becoming frayed is to keep your cat’s nails trimmed. All you need to do to trim them is to cut the very end of the nail, the tip, so that the pawing isn’t as sharp.

You can also place a big towel, old sweater, or blanket between your cat’s paws and your clothing or skin. If the kneading is bothersome, that’s okay. Distract your furry one with a fun feather wand or catnip mouse. 

We at East Sacramento think making biscuits is one of the cutest behaviors our feline friends engage in. If you have any questions about why cats knead people, or would like to schedule an appointment, please call us