Why do cats make biscuits—affection, retaliation, or something else?
The classic pawing behaviour of cats is what we call making biscuits or kneading. The dough can be the sofa, their bed, or even your body—kitties will knead it like their life depends on it!
So, why do cats make biscuits so persistently (and aggressively)? It's unlikely they were bakers in a past life, so they must be trying to communicate something specific. The problem is that decoding the feline body language is tricky.
Many animal behaviourists have analysed the peculiar behaviour over the years and came up with numerous theories explaining why cats or kittens knead. A cat making biscuits is usually harmless but can also indicate stress and anxiety. Let’s discuss:
- Why is a cat or kitten making biscuits?
- Should the behaviour be tolerated?
- Can they hurt humans by kneading on them?
Cat or kitten kneading—understand the sentiment
A feline’s kneading need is easier to crack once you understand the mindset behind it.
Making biscuits is often confused with aggressive behaviour like scratching and rough-housing because of the similar movement of the front paws. In reality, a cat or kitten pawing is a different action that is rather mild and non-combative. It usually happens when they are casually lounging against a soft surface. The kitty would instinctively begin moving their front paws back and forth against the surface, mimicking the soft and rhythmic kneading motion.
Kneading cats have a relaxed posture, and the behaviour is often accompanied by soft meows and purrs. On occasions, the kitty may also bite and suckle on the surface playfully, which is problematic if the surface is your lap!
Making biscuits is a behaviour rooted in childlike innocence—not hostility or aggression.
Why cats make biscuits—5 common reasons
Making biscuits is seen as a juvenile or neotenic behaviour in domesticated cats,
retention of traits from early kittenhood (like a human kid sucking their thumb even when they’re past their toddler years).
It’s common for infantile kittens to knead their mother’s belly to stimulate milk production. They instinctively associate the action with comfort and the fulfilment of their primal desire to feed.
A wild or feral kitten would stop kneading as soon as they wean off milk and leave their mother, turning into ruthless hunters who kill birds and rodents to survive. Domesticated kittens will likely retain their kneading habit into adulthood because of their sheltered lives. Their humans care for them and provide meals regularly, recreating a parent-child relationship. Fully developed cats retain this impulsive response in various social and emotional situations that evoke comfort and happiness.
Check out five typical reasons behind cats making biscuits:
- Expressing affection
- Scent-marking a territory
- Sending out mating calls
- Alleviating stress
Kitties tend to knead anyone who makes them feel safe and nurtured, as their mother did. That can be you, their puppy housemate, your friend’s cat, or even a stranger! The more vigorously they knead, the deeper their affection and attachment. You can be sure the cat is kneading you out of love if they express other forms of feline devotion, such as:
- Licking you (they want to groom you to make you pretty!)
- Blinking slowly at you
- Sleeping on your bed
- Head-bunting or rubbing cheeks with you
If a cat kneads aggressively while hissing or shooting death stares, then they’re definitely mad at the person or the pet.
Scent-marking a territory
Cats have scent glands on their paws that release a chemical scent (pheromone) upon rubbing. Making biscuits is an efficient way for territorial cats to scent-stamp their belongings, especially in a home with multiple pets. Some experts also believe that kneading on a bed is primal feline behaviour, as vigilant wild cats often paw at grass to kill insects and slugs before slumbering.
Don’t fuss, hooman. I’m scent-marking you to secure my steady supply of warm cuddles and yummy food.
Source: Elvis Ray
Many kitties start the kneading motion right after a nap, which is a form of stretching. Kneading stimulates blood circulation to their limbs and helps them get steady on their paws before they go about their day.
Sending out mating calls
Female unspayed cats tend to knead several times a day during their heat cycles. It’s a hormonal behaviour because they’re restless to call in a mate. Your kitty may be highly vocal and affectionate during the period, grooming herself more than usual and begging to go outside to meet a receptive tomcat. If you're not going to let your queen or tom procreate, get your kitty fixed to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
Kneading is common in distressed felines. Whether brooding over something upsetting or going through teething pains, many kitties instinctively knead to recover the sense of comfort.
Cat parents often fail to associate the kneading behaviour with stress, but it’s easy to tell if you’re aware of the common signs of agitation in felines. A stressed kitty will have a stiff body and may often make biscuits in the air or on their bed all alone. They would hide more and be closed off to interaction and training. They may also:
- Sleep a lot more than usual
- Avoid drinking water
- Exhibit a change in their eating habits like:
- Refusing their wet or dry food
- Overeating or eating too fast
- Eating in smaller portions
- Nibbling inedible stuff like paper and litter
- Hesitate to use the litter tray
- Experience stress-induced gastrointestinal issues, such as:
- Regurgitation (of food or hairballs)
- Lose weight
Keep in mind that kneading is an involuntary psychosomatic response and doesn’t reduce stress. If you think your kitty is anxious, try to figure out what’s bothering them and address the issue accordingly. You can also consult a feline behaviourist for help.
A stressed kitty slouches and refuses eye contact—investigate what’s making them miserable.
Should you encourage a cat who makes biscuits on you?
Making biscuits is primarily identified as harmless and shouldn’t be discouraged. Many kitties habitually knead to release tension from their body and sleep well. It can be incredibly damaging to their mental state if you scold or punish them when they make biscuits.
What to do if the kneading hurts
We secretly gloat when a cat favours us with their adorable biscuit-making. While a kitty doesn’t intend to hurt you with kneading, they have claws that can easily pierce through human skin!
Check out some tips to minimise the collateral damage:
- Clip their claws—Trim your kitty’s nails every week to make them less pointy
- Use padding—Put a thick towel or a blanket on your lap and belly to create some insulation
- Redirect their attention—Gently move your kitten to their bed when they start making biscuits. Use a pheromone spray or a catnip blanket to shift their attention away from you. Use positive reinforcement (praises and treats) so that your kitty understands that they should knead elsewhere
Return the love—how to show cats you care
Never be indifferent to a kneading kitty. Felines are intelligent creatures, and they must see you care about them the way they do about you. Here are some guaranteed ways to impress your kitty:
How to make kneading cats happy
How it helps
You’ve apparently made an impact on a kitty who kneads on you. Instead of offering them toys, show them you care by spending quality time with them. Play interactive games or strike up a conversation if they’re talkative (Siamese, Burmese, Bombay, or Sphynx usually are)
Petting or grooming
Kneading cats tend to see petting and grooming as a reciprocating action. Use your fingers to stroke your kitty’s fur when they knead your body or organise a brushing session
Tasty wet food
Food is the ultimate reward for kneading. The best way to show love to your kitty is by offering them tasty and nutritious wet food every day. It usually contains real meat and is high in animal protein, so it’s more appealing than dry food, which tends to contain filler ingredients like:
Quality wet food for your cat should:
The most obvious sign a hooman cares? They respect your carnivore biology and bring whole meat to the table!
Image (c) Untamed
Keep your kitty’s happiness metre high with Untamed
Choose Untamed gravies and jellies to keep your kitty satisfied and comforted in the long run. Our formulas are designed by vets as an ideal feline diet. We offer:
- Over 60% whole meat—Untamed products have twice more meat than average cat food. We use human-grade meat and fish acquired from ethical suppliers, which naturally have more taurine, vitamins, and minerals than undefined organ or bone digests
- Dishes without iffy fillers—We don’t use meat derivatives, flavour enhancers, artificial additives, sugar, grains, or vegan and dairy proteins. That’s why even fussy kitties love Untamed!
- Lip-smacking flavours—Keep the menu interesting for your kneading kitty. Let them try our delectable meals, including:
- Hypoallergenic meals—There are no common allergens in Untamed, so kitties with food allergies can enjoy our food. We gently steam the dishes to make them light and digestible. If you have a kitten prone to tummy issues or a senior cat with stomach sensitivity, give them our single-protein-source options, Tuck-in Tuna in Jelly or Chocka Chicken in Jelly
Take our TRY NOW quiz to order a tailor-made trial pack at a fantastic price!
I know I picked the best hooman because my heart and my tummy are always full!
Image (c) Untamed
Untamed screams love and affection!
Untamed formulas suit kitties at all life stages, so you can give our food to kittens, adults, and older cats! We help:
- Younglings gain their target body weight
- Adult cats manage their weight and avoid obesity, diabetes, and arthritis
- Seniors maintain an appropriate weight, muscle tone, and appetite
Our regular clients say that Untamed makes their kitties’ lives better. Here’s how they describe the effect:
The Untamed effect
About three months
Four months and up
I don’t knead my hooman—my hooman needs me.
Image (c) Untamed
The Untamed trial pack—a box full of happiness!
Show your kitty some human love by ordering the Untamed trial pack online! You’ll receive an assorted pack of our delicacies within a day with free shipping. Here’s the quickest way to order:
- Complete our TRY NOW quiz
- Select the items you want your kitty to sample
- Place the order