Why Do Cats Make Biscuits? Your Kitty's Kneading Explained

Cats carry an alluring sense of mystery, which is often hailed as part of their charm.

One common animal behavior that can sometimes puzzle owners is an adorable dance-like ritual a kitty makes, involving alternate pushing in and out with their front paws.

Although the underlying reason for this odd activity—sometimes called "kneading dough" or "making biscuits"—is far from obvious, experts now have a clearer understanding of its likely causes.

So, why do cats make biscuits? Newsweek found out.

What Is Cat Kneading?

"Kneading is sometimes called 'making biscuits' because it resembles the way bakers knead dough", the International Cat Association (TICA) President Vicki Jo Harrison told Newsweek.

She added: "While kneading cats rhythmically push their paws towards and away from soft surfaces such as blankets or a warm, cozy lap."

While cat kneading is commonly reported by bemused owners, no two acts are totally identical.

Cats are sometimes seen making biscuits on common household objects, linens and blankets, and at other times on their owner's clothes. Some kitties tend to extend their claws while making biscuits, while others do not.

Why Do Cats Make Biscuits
Kneading behavior in cats may seem odd to owners. Mariia Skovpen/Getty Images

Why Do Cats Knead?

It seems the short answer is no-one is certain about the action's exact origin, although the consensus among experts is kneading has deep roots in feline evolutionary behavior.

Jenna Mahan, Director of Claims at Embrace Pet Insurance, said: "We don't really know why cats knead, but there are a few theories out there.

"Some think it's related to them marking their territory since there are scent glands in those toe beans."

"So, if Miss Mittens is making biscuits all over you, she is marking you as her person. All other cats be warned!"

Why Do Cats Make Biscuits
Experts believe cats "making biscuits" has deep roots in feline evolutionary behavior. kb79/Getty Images

Pam Johnson-Bennett, of the Cat Behavior Associates (CBA), believes kneading behavior "goes back to when cats were kittens nursing on the mother."

She said: "The instinctive flexing and relaxing kittens do with their paws while nursing is what stimulates lactation and releases the flow of milk."

Kayleigh Kilcommons, Head of Cattery at Mayhew, believes comforting smells can play a role.

She said: "Cats have scent glands on the underside of their paws, and they use scent as a way of creating familiarity, marking territory, self-soothing or bonding with another creature.

"So you could argue that anything they choose to knead is something they see as their territory or as a bonding technique. They are declaring 'this is mine'. However, this doesn't explain their preference for kneading on soft surfaces."

The American Animal Hospital Association adds another popular hypothesis is kneading could have a rather more prosaic explanation.

Its site states: "Similar to the theory regarding dogs turning in circles before lying down, kneading may help cats create a soft sleeping place.

"Wild feline ancestors would knead tall grass into cushy piles for a resting place, and this behavior may still be instinctual in our domesticated friends."

bengal cat on blanket
Cats often choose to knead on soft surfaces like blankets. Getty Images

Does Cat Kneading Behavior Change Over Time?

TICA President Vicki Jo Harrison suggests cats continue to knead into adulthood "because they associate it with the same comfort they get when they were nursing from their mother as a kitten."

She added: "It becomes a self-soothing behavior, often associated with purring, when they are relaxed and happy, often shown prior to napping or when being pet."

The CBA's Pam Johnson-Bennett agrees cats frequently retain the kneading behavior "even after weaning and long into having grown into adults."

She said: "It's most often exhibited when cats are on soft, cozy textures such as beds, blankets, or the owner's lap.

"Kneading in adult cats is associated with feelings of contentment and security. Some cats get so carried away with the joy that they even begin drooling while kneading."

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There can be a negative side to a pet kitty kneading on their owner. Kyryl Gorlov/Getty Images

Should You Stop Cats Making Biscuits?

Dr. Susan Krebsbach, owner and founder of Creature Counseling, believes while kneading on humans is often a positive experience for both parties, it can have its downsides.

She told PreventiveVet: "When the cat's claws are not trimmed, it can be painful for people. Kneading can cause snags on clothes, blankets, and furniture, leading to the cat's claw getting stuck on whatever they are kneading."

However, she suggests not to put an abrupt stop to a kitty's natural impulse, as a cat "needs an outlet."

She added: "Instead, keep the cat's nails trimmed so that when they extend their claws while kneading the object of their affection, people won't be scratched, the furniture won't be snagged, and cats won't get their claws stuck.

"For people who don't want to be kneaded, the moment the cat starts to do it, redirect the cat to a designated spot for kneading with a blanket or towel for this purpose."

cat kneading
It is normal and instinctual for a cat to knead inanimate objects and even their owners. Maryviolet/Getty Images