Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners

Cats are curious, affectionate and playful animals, but they have certain behaviors that still puzzle their owners. Take, for instance, when your cat kneads you. Most cat parents find this behavior cute, but do you really know what your cat is trying to convey? In this article, we uncover the reasons cats do this, and what you need to know about kneading.

Why do cats knead their owners?

Cats knead their owners to show their affection and to mark you as part of their territory, known as territorial marking. When a cat forms a close bond with her owner, she tends to become territorial about them. Felines may also knead their owners if the latter are wearing something soft and fuzzy, such as a woolen shawl, sweatshirt, or any clothing made from soft and supple fabric. Cats knead just as humans fluff their pillows to prepare for a comfortable sleep.  

Cat experts note that cats may also knead because they are reminded of the time when they were kittens. They may be kneading you because being on your lap or near your fuzzy sweater reminds them of being at their mother’s belly when they were still dependent on her for milk. Kneading stimulates milk production from a mother’s teats, so all kittens instinctively knead when suckling. Your cat may be reliving the comfort and security of that time.  

What is kneading?

Kneading is an instinctive behavior and a rhythmic and repetitive motion wherein cats push their paws in and out, alternating between paws, like a baker kneading dough. They do this against soft surfaces such as blankets, pillows, carpets, couches or a person’s lap. It is also often called ‘making muffins’ or ‘kneading dough’. 

Some cats will retract and extend their claws, while others keep their claws fully retracted while they knead. Some knead with all four paws, and some only use their front paws to knead. Kneading is so relaxing for cats that some may even drool as they knead. 

Why do cats knead?

  • To stimulate the flow of milk from a mother’s teats when nursing.
  • To help them relax after a stressful situation. 
  • To stretch their muscles after a nap. 
  • To mark their territory. 
  • To indicate their readiness to mate.
  • To prepare a comfortable spot where they can sleep or give birth.

Cat experts note that the kneading behavior may have originated with wild female cats that knead to prepare their nest among tall grasses and leaves. They do this before they give birth or to prepare to rest and sleep after hunting prey. Kneading also has something to do with a cat’s territorial behavior and it imparts a cat’s scent on areas that she wants to mark as her territory. 

How do you stop your cat from kneading?

If you do not want your cat to knead you or the furniture, you can stop her by picking her up. Place her on another surface, such as her cat bed or a soft blanket. You can also redirect her behavior by distracting her with a toy or a treat. 

If she starts to knead, offer her a treat or a toy and she will eventually learn to favor the new behavior. Also, trim your cat’s nails every 10 to 14 days so they won’t hook on clothes or hurt you if she kneads. Use a pheromone spray like Feliway to encourage your cat to be calm and knead on appropriate surfaces. You could also place a blanket on your lap so your cat can safely knead without causing injury. 

According to cat experts, kneading, along with certain other behaviors, is rooted in a cat’s evolutionary instinct. A cat kneading her owner could be a sign of affection and a way of conveying her love for you. However, it can become bothersome if a cat kneads all the time. It can also be painful if she does not retract her claws when she kneads.

Nevertheless, do not punish your cat for kneading. It is an instinctive behavior and unless it becomes a great hassle, allow her to knead and appreciate it for what it is worth.  


Cats are intelligent, affectionate animals, and much of their behavior is rooted in evolutionary instincts. Kneading, for instance, is reminiscent of their kitten days, when they kneaded to stimulate their mother’s teats during nursing. Felines may knead on their owners as a form of territorial marking, if their owners are wearing fluffy clothes, or to demonstrate love and affection for their humans. 

Image: istockphoto.com / nickpo