Why Do Cats Knead?

"You should absolutely take this as a compliment!"

People call it all kinds of things: "Biscuit making," "making bread" and just plain "kneading" - and cats just keep on doing it.

Cats pushing their paws repeatedly - against cushions, other cats, their people or even the air - and stretching their claws in and out is a pretty much ubiquitous practice.

Cat kneading the air

But why?

The answer is nothing short of adorable.

Cat kneading another cat

"Kittens knead on their mothers while nursing," Rachel Barrack, veterinarian of Animal Acupuncture in New York City, told The Dodo. "Many cats carry this behavior into adulthood and may knead their owners, other furry siblings or bedding."

Barrack said that cats are soothed by kneading, and can even enter "a trancelike state."

Cat kneading man's beard

"We refer to kneading cats as 'muffin-makers' and 'biscuit-bakers,'" Katie Armour, project coordinator at MSPCA Boston Adoption Center, told The Dodo. "Nursing kittens knead their mom's teats as they suckle to stimulate lactation, and they purr to let her know that they're happy and are getting full bellies."

Cat making bread

While most cats keep purring throughout their lives, not all cats actually keep kneading beyond kittenhood, according to Armour. But many continue - and some get really into it. Some cats get so into their kneading trances that they even start drooling. And there's actually a sort of heartbreaking reason for the dribble.

"In my experience, this is often seen with orphaned kittens who were bottle-fed by humans, or kitties who were weaned too young," Armour said. "They still have that vestigial connection between kneading and suckling that many other cats have outgrown."

Kitten making biscuits

"If you do have a cat who kneads their bedding, or better yet you, it's because they're feeling very loved and comfortable," Armour said. "You should absolutely take this as a compliment!"

To adopt a little biscuit-maker of your own, visit MSPCA if you're in the Boston area, or visit Adopt-a-Pet online to start looking.