Why do cats knead fluffy things?
Do your cats do that thing?” I’ve been asked before. “March in place on blankets and stuff?”
It’s such an odd thing to witness—a cat, seemingly hypnotized by nothing, plowing her front paws resolutely into a fluffy surface. It’s called “kneading,” and yes, my cats do that thing too.
In fact, I’m fairly certain that with the right mood and given the right materials, any cat can be coaxed into this strange trance. But…why, cat? WHY? As if you weren’t weird enough…
Let’s get baking!
Why “kneading,” exactly?
Well, cat kneading is also colloquially known as “making biscuits,” since the rhythmic pushing motions cats make with their paws is said to resemble a baker kneading dough.
Here’s an uncomfortably sensual visual of the aforementioned in action:
And here’s the real thing:
Absolutely uncanny, no? You can barely tell which is which. Just squishy things everywhere.
The pursuit of comfort
So many cat behaviors and quirks can be attributed to the relentless pursuit of comfort, in all its forms. Like naps. And warmth. And security.
Cats purr to lull themselves into a greater state of relaxation, and as a form of self-soothing.
They seek higher ground to enhance their feeling of safety and security.
They groom incessantly to self-soothe and maintain control.
Suffice it to say, if an action brings them any sort of comfort, cats will partake with abandon.
Any kneading, my friends, is just about the most comforting activity a kitty can conjure up in her little fur brain.
The origins of kneading
As kittens, cats will knead their mothers’ warm, fluffy underbellies to stimulate milk flow. Think of the coziness, the sweet smells, and the absolutely divine comfort a kitten must feel in that situation.
This kneading behavior, akin to sucking one’s thumb, persists into a cat’s adulthood as an instinctual “tick” that occurs when a cat is feeling particularly relaxed and comfortable.
Some cats will even suckle their blankets while kneading, lending further credence to this theory.
In the wild, adults cats also practice kneading in—you guessed it—yet another pleasant and cozy situation. Just before they settle in for a nap, a cat will knead the grass and foliage beneath her paws to tamp down a comfortable sleeping surface. This kneading is almost always accompanied by purring—another soothing behavior cats utilize to double down on relaxation.
So if purring is equivalent to a contented smile, purring and kneading would be a contented smile while sucking a thumb and cuddling a favorite blanky.
What, you didn’t know? When they’re not being neurotic psychos, cats are little more than giant fuzzy babies.
When you become the dough
The first time my cat kneaded my doughy post-dinner food belly, my husband burst out laughing. Indignant, I glared into Sita’s blissfully content little face and grumbled, “What are you trying to tell me, woman??”
Fortunately, we keep our cats’ nails trimmed and tidy, so her fit of misplaced euphoria didn’t leave any lasting (physical) marks. But for those with fidgety cats who loathe having their nails trimmed, this situation is a lot less amusing.
The next time your cat decides to dig her claws into your lap or your winter fat reserves, gently redirect her attention to something more appropriate.
Never scream or yell.
(A cat kneading their human is essentially saying, “I love you. You are my comfort. I have never felt more safe and happy.” A negative reaction to that would be the ultimate dick move.)
Instead, keep a soft, fuzzy blanket or pillow close by that you can relocate her to. Soon, she’ll automatically direct her kneading sessions there instead of onto your love handles.
And there you have it! Hypnotic kitty biscuit-making, demystified.
Do your cats knead? How many dozens of biscuits have they baked so far? Got any favorite recipes to share?