5 Reasons Cats Knead (and How to Avoid Kneading)

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There are many reasons why cats knead. Here’s the scoop on what kneading means and how to deal with the discomfort it causes cats.

It’s Saturday afternoon and you’re binge-watching your favorite show. Halfway through the first season, a warm, fluffy 12-pound kitten jumps into your lap and starts kneading for a few seconds at a time, moving its paws in and out of your body. You can see and hear it slobbering and purring loudly, enjoying itself.


If you are a cat owner, you have probably had the experience of letting your cat “make bread” on your lap. Have you ever asked yourself why cats knead blankets, beds, and you? Here’s what you need to know about this common cat behavior.

Common reasons cats knead their owners

1. kneading is a kitten behavior

Kneading begins in kittens. When suckling, kittens purr and knead their mother with their paws. This is a moment of security and comfort. One of the reasons we love our cats so much is that they still exhibit kitten-like behaviors such as kneading and purring. Cats that remember the joy of being close to their mothers and kittens, and are close to their pet parents, may exhibit kneading behavior. After all, the cat is showing affection. What could be better than that?

2. you taught it.

A cat’s behavior can be reinforced, even if it is innate or learned as a kitten. If you give your cat attention when he makes you a cookie, he is likely to repeat that behavior in the future. Even without actively reinforcing the behavior through attention, petting, or praise, the act of laying on something soft and warm is in itself reinforcing. This reinforcement makes the behavior stronger.

3. laying it on the bed.

You may have noticed that when the cat finishes kneading, it will lie down on your lap. This may be an ancient behavior pattern inherited from feral cats who made their beds by kneading grass. Your pampered cat still has traces of the feral cat in him!

4. “I love you. You can smell me.

Cats leave their scent on things they like or want to mark. You’ve probably seen a cat rubbing its face against you or your furniture. Cats also leave their scent when they scratch you with their favorite scratching post. They may also leave their scent on you through glands in their feet. Consider this a compliment. Because you are it!

5. Feeling good

Your cat has probably been exercising like he has been doing yoga for a day. Serious pawing back and forth, flexing and stretching muscles will make your cat feel good and help with flexibility.

How to keep your cat from hurting you

Whatever the cat’s reason for kneading, there is no real reason to stop it. However, if your cat has long claws, it may not be very pleasant!

To ease the discomfort of a cat’s kneading, try placing a thick, soft blanket on your lap so that you can’t feel its claws. If you always place the blanket on your lap and pet your cat while he kneads (assuming your cat likes to be petted), you can train him to knead only on the blanket. Think of this as “kneading on cue.”

If you cut your cat’s claws so that they don’t grow too long, he will be less likely to poke you with a cat dagger. If you don’t know how to cut your cat’s nails, ask your veterinarian or a professional groomer.

How to keep your cat from kneecapping you

If you don’t want your cat trying to kneecap you, there are a few measures you can take to turn his affections toward you. When you sit on the couch, lay out a thick, soft blanket. When the cat kneads you, gently pick it up and place it on the blanket. If the cat does not like to be picked up, turn it on its side and slide it onto the blanket.

When he kneads you on the blanket, praise him, pet him, or place a treat on the blanket. You can also give a verbal cue to train him to put it on the blanket. Or you can distract him with a toy to get him off your lap.

Note: Do not yell at a cat that rubs your lap or throw it off your lap. First, this is not the most effective training method. Second, this is not a good idea. You love your cat; there is no need to scare or startle it.

Here’s the good news. The cat is kneading, it’s having fun. Lay a thick blanket on your lap and enjoy!

By Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB

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