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Why Does My Cat Knead Me?

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 21, 2021

Cats have many instinctual behaviors, and one of them is kneading. Your cat kneads by pushing their paws one at a time on a soft surface. The motion is similar to kneading dough. Below are some reasons why your cat may be kneading you.

Kneading as a kitten. When a kitten is first born, they knead against the mother cat’s stomach to stimulate milk. Cats often associate kneading with comfort and feeling relaxed. Some people think that cats knead because they are weaned too early from their mothers. Studies show that many cats knead, no matter how long they stay with their mother cat.

Kneading as a sign of comfort.Body language is how your cat communicates with you. Kneading is one way your cat shows they are happy and content. You may notice that your cat kneads as they drift off to sleep. Your cat may knead you, a blanket, or a favorite nap spot.

Kneading to reduce stress. Your cat may knead you if they are unwinding from feeling anxious. Cats seek comfort, and kneading may help them calm down and release tension from their body.

Kneading to identify a napping spot. If your cat has a favorite place to nap, they may want to mark the spot. Cats mark their territory in several ways, which include licking, spraying, and kneading. These cat behaviors leave behind a unique scent. Your cat wants to tell other animals this is their spot.

Wild cats often knead grass or dirt to make it more comfortable. Your cat may use their paws to move a blanket around, circling their nap spot before laying down.

Kneading to show affection. When your cat shows affection, they may knead in addition to other behaviors. Cats commonly lick and groom their humans to show love. Activities like kneading, licking, and grooming helps your cat bond with you. Your cat also shows affection by:

  • Pushing their head on you
  • Meowing and purring
  • Rubbing against you with their body ‌
  • Opening and closing their eyes slowly

Tips for Stopping Your Cat From Kneading

If your cat’s kneading bothers you, there are ways to deter the behavior. You may want to do this if your cat kneads with their claws out. This can be painful and may damage cushions and blankets.

Identify a kneading spot. Offer your cat a single blanket or pillow for kneading. You can purchase a pheromone spray that attracts your cat to the surface. This may keep your cat from kneading unwanted surfaces. You can even put the blanket in your lap, so their claws won’t hurt you.

Redirect your cat’s attention. You don’t have to scold your cat to discourage the behavior. Positive reinforcement yields better results. Offer treats or a toy to stop your cat from kneading. Cats are very smart and easy to train. Be consistent, and your cat will learn fast.

Don’t punish kneading. Your cat’s desire to knead is natural. They will not understand why they are being punished for doing something that brings them comfort. Scolding your cat may lead to aggression.

Other Cat Behaviors

Cats have other common behaviors that are similar to kneading. Pay attention to your cat’s body language to understand what they are trying to communicate. Over time, you’ll learn the unique ways your cat tries to tell you things.

Your cat also communicates by:

  • Hissing
  • Swatting
  • Chasing
  • Spraying
  • Meowing‌
  • Purring

Aggression in cats. Some of these cat behaviors appear aggressive. Cats can easily feel anxious and overstimulated. They may communicate first with more gentle behavior. For example, if you are petting your cat and they feel overstimulated, they may paw at you. When you continue to pet them, your cat may escalate to scratching, biting, or hissing.

This may seem sudden to you. Over time, you will learn early cues, like pawing, that your cat uses to communicate. With consistency, you may see fewer aggressive behaviors as you work to meet your cat’s needs.

You may still see aggressive behaviors from time to time. Keep in mind these are natural instincts for your cat. Use positive reinforcement to discourage other negative behaviors similar to how you address kneading.

Cat behavior concerns. Talk to your veterinarian about any behavior concerns. Your cat may grow out of some behaviors, like kneading. Other behaviors may signal that something is wrong. It’s easy to assume that negative behaviors will go away eventually. Instead, address your concerns with your cat’s veterinarian. Examples of concerning cat behaviors may include:

  • Pooping and peeing outside of their litter box
  • Marking territory by spraying urine
  • Being very afraid and skittish
  • Aggression toward other pets, children, and household members‌
  • Destroying things on purpose

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Animal Hospital Association: “Is My Cat’s Kneading Normal?”

American Association of Feline Practitioners: “Feline Behavior Guidelines.”

PetMD: “Why Do Cats Knead?"

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