Kneading, also known as “making biscuits”, occurs when your cat pushes its paws against a soft or fluffy surface in a rhythmical motion similar to someone kneading dough.
Your pet kneads with the underside of their paws or their claws. While some rarely engage in the behavior, others do it at every opportunity when they encounter a soft or fluffy surface, such as carpets, pillows, blankets, bedding, and clothing — or their owner.
The behavior is also known as making bread, padding, or treading.
Why do cats knead?
There are multiple theories about why cats knead or make biscuits. Here are some of the explanations that experts have proposed:
Kneading is instinctive behavior. Kittens start kneading early in life. They instinctively push their paws against their mother’s mammary glands while nursing to stimulate milk secretion.
The motion of a kitten’s paws against its mother’s mammaries is similar to the kneading behavior it would later engage in as an adult.
Some experts theorized that cats knead as a throwback to their kittenhood when the behavior rewarded them with nutrition (milk).
The reward a kitten gets from kneading helps establish a lifelong pattern of behavior that brings pleasure, although it no longer derives nutrition from it.
The theory may also explain why cats knead their humans. The human caregiver is a stand-in for the cat’s biological mother. When your pet kneads you, it is engaging in the same rewarding behavior it learned as a kitten.
Thus, theorists proposed that cats knead when they want attention, such as a cuddle, or a reward, such as food.
If your pet enjoys kneading on your lap and other objects in your home (blankets and couch pillows), you will want to trim her nails to prevent them from scratching or damaging things. You may also place a blanket on your lap to prevent her from scratching you.
Relaxing or calming behavior
Your pet may knead as a self-soothing behavior to manage anxiety and stress. The behavior has a calming effect that induces relaxation and helps lure your cat to sleep.
Another theory claims cats knead on soft surfaces to spread the scent and mark their home territory.
Your pet’s paws have scent glands. Cats raised in the security of a human home have less reason than wild cats to be concerned about marking and defending their territory.
However, the behavior is instinctive, and your pet engages in it even when they don’t need to.
When your pet kneads around the house on carpets, couch pillows, and blankets, it leaves a scent trail that marks the domain as home ground. It may also serve as a warning to trespassers, such as new or strange cats.
Making their nest
Another theory claims that when cats knead, they are engaging in the same behavior as their wild cousins making a bed of straw or grass to spend the night on.
The theory takes inspiration from wildlife experts observing the behavior of wild cats.
Some wild cats make beds of grass or straw to sleep on.
Cats spend considerable time relaxing and sleeping. Cat owners often observe their pets yawning and stretching after a long nap or rest.
Stretching helps to get blood flowing into the muscles and brain. It reactivates the muscles in preparing for activity after a long rest.
Some experts theorize that kneading is stretching behavior to reactivate stiff muscles.