Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

One of the cutest yet most mysterious feline behaviors is the act of kneading. Cat parents love to watch their cats happily move their paws, alternating left and right in an outward motion, but you have to wonder: why do cats knead their owners? While there is no one solid answer to why cats knead in general, animal behaviorists have a few theories.

Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

To understand why cats knead their owners, you have to understand how the behavior developed in the first place. Live Science suggests that kneading is an instinctual act that hearkens back to their days as kittens. Kittens knead their mother’s mammary glands while eating in order to quicken the flow of milk. The behavior is rewarded with increased milk production and the happy, full belly that accompanies a good meal. Kneading carries over into adulthood by becoming a way to express the feeling of being content.

Purina believes that cats knead their owners as a sign of reciprocated affection. Kneading takes place most often as you are lovingly scratching or petting your cat. His feelings of happiness and love can only be expressed by kneading, and the harder he kneads, the happier he is. Check out this video of this happy cat kneading for his human! :

Couples who share cats often notice inequality when it comes to kneading. Many women ask, “Why do cats knead me but not my husband?” Purina points out that, by choosing one owner over the other, a cat is marking that person as theirs. Cat paws have scent glands. By kneading, they release a chemical signal to other cats–and possibly your husband–that you are their human. Essentially, they are claiming you as their favorite.

Kneading goes beyond happiness and affection for a favorite human. Animal behaviorists suspect that there are more functional reasons for the adorable action. These include comfort, exercise, territory claim, and initiating procreation.

Getting Comfortable

Cats are creatures of comfort. Live Science notes that their ancestors used to knead grass and leaves in order to create a comfortable sleeping spot. Many of today’s cats can be caught kneading their blankets to maximum comfort levels before they settle in for their afternoon nap.

Kitten Yoga

Everyone needs to stretch. Cats are no different. Purina proposes that some cats knead merely as a means to stretch their muscles. Pet MD estimates that cats sleep from 15 to 20 hours per day, often not changing positions for several hours. A long stretch, accompanied by kneading, is a good way to loosen both large and small muscle groups and prepare your cat for the rest of his day, even if the only thing on his agenda is another nap.

Claiming Their Territory

The scent glands located on a cat’s paw pads are not just for claiming their favorite human. Pet MD suggests that the kneading of inanimate objects–toys or blankets, typically–indicates that the cat has taken possession of the item. He marks it with his scent so other cats in the house know who it belongs to, or so the item stays untouched for the hours he is not using it.


Pet MD states that female cats who have not been spayed tend to knead when they are ovulating, known in layman’s terms as going into heat. The kneading motion is meant to attract a male cat for mating. While kneading is always cute, it must be noted that spaying and neutering cats rank higher on the list of importance than cuteness. Spaying your cat prevents pregnancy, uterine and ovarian cancer, and the chance of a pyometra, or an infection of the uterus that may rupture and spill into the abdominal cavity. In short, spay so they can knead another day!

Kneading has many names among cat lovers–making biscuits and baking bread are just two of them. It is the one cat quirk that everyone can appreciate, especially their owners. If your cat chooses to knead you, know that it is purely out of happiness and affection and that your cat thinks you are something special. Hopefully, he knows that the feeling is reciprocated!

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