Why Do Cats Knead?

little kitten is kneading on a bed

Kneading is a common behavior observed in cats, but you probably don’t have a complete understanding of why they do it. 

This behavior actually has some pretty interesting explanations. There is no single reason why all cats do this, and learning about this will give you some more insight into your adorable pet.

What is Kneading Behavior in Cats?

The term “kneading” describes a behavior where a cat will push its paws on something over and over. It looks like they are kneading some dough, hence the name. Most cats knead things that have a soft and smooth texture. Some cats knead other cats in the household, while others will do it on something else like a blanket.

Reasons for Kneading in Cats

There are several reasons that you might catch your cat kneading, and they are all pretty fascinating, to say the least.

1. They Are Responding to Pleasurable Stimuli

A lot of cats will knead their owner’s legs while they are being petted, simply because it feels good. This is an instinctual response to feeling pleasurable stimuli. It often happens when you start stroking them in that one perfect spot. This is essentially the equivalent to your dog kicking its leg when you start petting them.

2. They’re Settling into a Comfy Spot

Cats have also been known to exhibit digging behavior when they are settling down. Before cats were domesticated, they would often knead the grass to make the area flat and more comfortable to lie on. This is just your feline’s primal instincts coming out, so it’s nothing to worry about.

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cats paws e1583401241892

3. Their Inner Kitten is Coming Out

It is fairly common for cats to knead as kittens so they can get as much milk as possible from their mother. This instinct doesn’t always completely go away, so it can manifest in cats that are older and fully matured.

4. Territorial Behavior

Another possible explanation for your cat’s kneading is their natural territorial instincts. Whether they are kneading on you or some random object, it could be their way of saying “I own this, it is mine.” 

If they start doing this on you, it is because you have established a strong bond with them. You should ultimately take it as a compliment because it means your cat really likes you. Just be glad that they are doing this to mark their territory instead of peeing.

5. They Are Stretching

Sometimes what looks like kneading in cats is actually just them stretching their muscles. These animals need to stay limber for all of the jumpings and running around they do, so this is fairly common.

6. Attracting a Mate

Your cat could be kneading an object in your home as a way of attracting mates. As strange as it sounds, this is fairly common in male cats. It is a sort of display that these animals use to find females to mate with. They are also known for purring and stretching to attract mates.

Female cats also knead sometimes before they start their heat cycle. This is also a common method used to attract a suitable candidate for mating. You should consider yourself lucky if this is all your female cat does when in heat.

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cat kneads an owner

7. It Feels Good

The reason behind your cat’s kneading could be as simple as it just feels good. This is probably the case when you catch your feline friend doing this to a soft blanket or something else that feels good on their little paws.

How to Discourage Kneading

If your cat’s kneading is causing damage to items in your home or pain to you, it is important that you know what to do. The first thing that you need to keep in mind is that it is never a good idea to punish your cat for doing this. They will just be confused and you won’t get anywhere with them.

When you are trying to get your cat to stop kneading you or something else at home, you can try distracting them with a fun toy. It is also important that you have at least one good scratching post for your cat. This can work wonders when it comes to discouraging all sorts of annoying and destructive behavior in these animals.

You also want to keep your cat’s nails trimmed. This can make their kneading you a lot less painful and more tolerable overall. The last thing you want is to feel their sharp claws dig into your thigh when you are trying to relax on the couch or in bed. 

You can get this done at your vet or take them to a groomer. While you can trim your cat’s nails yourself, it can be quite a hassle without any help. You should put on a long-sleeved shirt, as your arms might get scratched up during this process.

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It is very important that you discourage your cat’s kneading if it is harming any other pets in the house, such as other cats or dogs. If they have their claws out when doing this, one of your pets could get injured.


  • Kneading is a common behavior in cats where they press their paws into something over and over in a rhythmic motion.
  • Your cat might start kneading your leg when you are petting them because it feels so good.
  • Cats also sometimes knead a certain spot because they are trying to get comfy. This is due to an old primal instinct.
  • Your cat’s kneading could actually just be stretching so it can stay as limber as possible.
  • A cat might start kneading a blanket or something else that is very soft because it feels good to press its paws against it.
  • Both male and female cats have been known to start kneading as a way of attracting mates. This is something that female cats often do just before their heat cycle begins.
  • If your cat’s kneading is causing you or others in the household pain, it is important that you try to discourage the behavior.
  • When your cat starts kneading on you, try distracting them with one of their favorite toys.