Is It Normal for Cats to Knead?

Cats have many behaviors that can leave new, and even experienced, owners scratching their heads. Humans may consider kneading a strange behavior; however, it is natural and instinctive for cats. Some cats enjoy kneading more than others, even drooling or zoning out while doing so on your lap or a soft blanket. So, what are cats truly doing when they knead? There are a few theories about this behavior. 

The Logic Behind Kneading 

Kneading is an instinctive and completely normal behavior in cats. Many cats are known to knead soft surfaces, such as blankets, cats, or even you. It seems to be a comforting behavior for cats - most purr, fall asleep, or just zone out and enjoy the behavior. Here are some common theories as to why cats knead:

  • It is instinctual - Kneading seems to come from the motion cats perform when nursing as kittens. Cats continue to find comfort in this same motion as they grow into adults. One theory stated cats who knead were removed from their mom too early, but it has been found that most cats knead, no matter when they were weaned.
  • To display emotion - A kneading cat is found to be a happy cat. Many cats knead when they are being petted or getting comfortable to snuggle up for a nap. Sometimes your cat may knead in your lap to get attention from you. At times, stressed cats knead to create a feeling of comfort. 
  • To relax - Kneading may be similar to dogs spinning in circles before lying down, as it is theorized to be a common habit for cats to get comfortable. Even in the wild, large cats have been seen to knead in the tall grass before laying down and it is suspected to be a trait still around in our domesticated felines.
  • To mark scents - Cats rely on scent markers to claim their territory and leave messages for others. Cats have scent glands on their paws, so scratching and kneading leave their scent for other animals to know they were there. 

Stopping Your Cat From Kneading

Kneading appears to be a sweet behavior until your cat is kneading your lap with their sharp claws out. In addition, they could accidentally tear up furniture and blankets or scratch your other pets. You can encourage proper kneading behavior with the following tips:

  • To prevent scratching, keep your cat’s nails trimmed short.
  • Try using Feliway, or other pheromone-based sprays, to encourage your cat to knead in different places.
  • Using toys or treats are a great way to shift your cat’s attention. Cats are intelligent creatures and can quickly learn to play with a toy or sit nearby with a sweet treat instead of kneading.
  • You can invest in a special blanket for “kneading only.” This can be a thick, cozy blanket to protect you from scratches. Try directing your cat to this blanket when they are choosing to knead.
  • Do not punish your cat for kneading. Remember, this is a natural instinct and your cat could respond negatively if punished for it. Instead of punishment, focus on redirection to still allow and encourage this behavior in a way you prefer. 

Kneading is a completely normal behavior for cats. It is a way your cat shows and tries to share their affection. Some consider kneading to be a bonding technique cats use with their humans. However, if you do have concerns about this or other behaviors, contact your cat’s vet to ensure there is not anything else going on.