Kneading, makin’ biscuits, or breading, whatever you call it, cat claws hurt. Lots of cats have the habit of sitting on their humans and kneading them, but not all cats do. My cats both used to do it, and I wondered why this happens. More importantly, I got curious about how to stop them from poking a bunch of tiny holes in me, so I did some research on the subject. It turns out there’s a lot of information about the topic, and you don’t have to put up with feeling like a pincushion all the time.
One of the things I encountered was a lot of misinformation. Many cat owners feel that kneading is something you can’t avoid, and that simply isn’t true. There are ways to stop your pet from making biscuits on your skin. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort to work with your kitty, you can nip this strange behavior in the bud, and convince them it doesn’t feel as good to you as it obviously does for them.
The downside is that, because it’s an instinctive behavior, stopping it takes a lot of time. Fortunately, with enough patience and persistence, you can get your pet to cut it out. First, let’s look at what’s happening when your cat kneads you.
Why Cats Knead
We tend to think of kitties’ mysterious behavior, like kneading, as something we couldn’t possibly understand. Luckily, that’s not true. While some cats are indeed just oddballs, most of them are just misunderstood.
Don’t fall into the myth-trap of believing that cat behavior is unreasonable and impossible to decode. Like all animals (and people), they behave in specific ways for good reasons. Here are the reasons cats knead on things and people.
As kittens, our pets learn to knead their mothers while they are eating. Doing this is a boon because it helps them get the milk out. Not unlike pulling on a cows’ udder, pushing on a mommy cat’s milk supply helps get every drop out for the hungry babies.
Making sure they eat well is one-way young cats can help take care of themselves. Kneading on mom helps assure they will be healthy later in life because it provides them with more nutritious milk.
I Love You
Unlike humans, cats can’t say they love you. Instead, they show their affection in several different ways. Sometimes cats will give you a long slow blink. That’s the equivalent of a kiss for your furry friend. If you want to be polite and make your cat feel extra special, then give the gesture back when you see it.
Another way they show they love us is by treating us like mommy. When cats meow or knead on you, they’re giving you the same cues they would give their mother in nature. Perhaps because humans respond so well to this, they can end up doing it frequently.
Sometimes it’s hard to get comfy. Your cat might knead to work the lumps out of their speeling place. While we understand that this won’t work on a person, your kitty could be trying to make their next nap extra snuggly.
The reason doesn’t always need to be complicated. Cat motivations can be purely for their comfort.
Humans aren’t the only ones who long for simpler times. Your cat’s kneading is occasionally a way for them to re-live the past joys of their kittenhood. Doing something that reminds them of mom probably feels safe and emotionally comforting. It’s an expression of longing or a way to bring back a happy memory more completely.
Cats stake a claim on us in several ways, and kneading can be one of them. First, they defend their space from intruders, which is why cats get so upset when strange kitty visitors are visible out the window. Second, they (sometimes) mark by spraying. Third, head bonks and butt rubs activate scent glands that leave an invisible (to humans) marker on the things and people they consider theirs.
Finally, by kneading, a cat is also marking territory. Felines have scent glands in their feet, as well. By kneading you, or furniture and blankets, your pet is depositing a scent-based “Keep Out- Private Property” sign all over.
Regardless of why your cat is kneading, it’s okay to want them to stop. Destroying furniture, blankets, and skin is not good pet behavior, even if it makes them happy. There are other ways to express all those feelings without causing pain or damage to people and things around the home.
Training a Cat to Stop Kneading
While it’s cute that we associate cat kneading with kneading dough, the dough doesn’t bleed when you push down too hard. Convincing a kitty to stop kneading is an arduous task, but it’s achievable. While most cat owners don’t do much conscious training, cats are smart and easy enough to teach.
Most folks have heard the phrase ‘tougher than herding cats,’ which implies that it’s especially difficult to convince our feline friends to do what we ask. Luckily, that’s not true. You can work with your pet to stop the pokey kneading behavior.
Some people opt to redirect the cat to one particular spot. Giving your cat a single kneading blanket could work. However, not everyone has success with this technique.
To Make Your Cat Stop Kneading: Do This
- Redirect their paws to somewhere else
- Remove the cat from your body and be patient
- Teach them slowly, they will eventually learn not to knead
- Focussed training is best
For the first option: Though this works best with young cats, and some are more prone to the behavior, most housecats will learn if you stick with the training. When your kitty starts sticking their claws in things, gently remove them. Do this every time they try, even if it happens fifty times in a row. Redirect their paws to another surface.
For option number 2: You can also remove the cat from your body or whatever else they’re trying to make those biscuits with. However, it’s not a good idea to squirt them with a squirt bottle or yell at them for this behavior. Be patient and kind. Over time your cat will learn that you don’t like this behavior, and most will stop.
Option 3: Naturally, some cats are more stubborn than others. Just as some cats knead with two paws and others use all four, each cat does things in their own way. In a few cases, individual cats may be so stubborn or needy that the training never works. However, that’s pretty rare.
Cats are smart and entirely trainable. We teach them at a few weeks old to use a catbox, so why people think that’s all they can figure out is a mystery to me. I blame pop culture.
Option 4: If you give them the time and focused attention they need, you’ll be surprised and gratified by the results of your kitty training. Plus, your cat will love the attention as long as you’re gentle with your directions.
Protect Your Skin & Other Solutions
While you train your cat to stop kneading, you can still avoid bleeding. Also, for those few unlucky folks whose kitty companions are incapable of, or too stubborn to learn the new trick for some reason, there are other solutions.
You can use a blanket or other covering for your skin. A thick coat will also do the trick if you don’t mind your furry friend poking a few holes in it. Avoid woven fabrics like crochet and knits. They tear more easily under your kitty’s claws.
If you happen to have a large cat with enormous claws, then you may need to take extra cautionary steps. One of the things that helped when I was working with a Mainecoon cat who had a biting-while-playing issue was cut-proof sleeves and gloves. However, since kneading happens more often on other parts of your body, an excellent cut-proof shirt might be a better plan.
Try redirecting your cat to a place that feels more like mommy. A soft, self-warming bed like the K&H Pet Products Thermo-Kitty Heated Cat Bed is a great way to give your kitty something other than your skin or furniture for kneading. The warmth and softness will appeal to their natural instincts to help satisfy the need to knead. Check out prices and availability here.
The Declawing Debate
Declawing a cat is an option, but it’s not one I suggest. When you declaw a cat, you are taking them to have the tips of their toes surgically removed. While this may be more comfortable for you, it’s not suitable for your cat. Taking away their ability to climb and defend themselves might save your furniture, but it will damage your pet.
Consider getting a high-quality cat scratching alternative. Don’t remove their toes, just remove the temptation instead. I suggest a CLASSY KITTY Cat Couch from Amazon to help your kitty find a place to sharpen those claws naturally. They can scratch, knead and sleep in comfort. Saving you and our furniture a lot of pain and trouble. Click here for more details.
There are times when, unfortunately, the kneading can be a problem. I don’t mean when it’s uncomfortable. Female cats can knead to warn you they are headed into heat. Male cats sometimes over-knead and begin drooling. This can lead to aggressive behavior and needs to be kept in check.
In rare cases, kneading behavior can become tied to compulsive, unhealthy behavior. If that is the case, you do need to stop it immediately. Fortunately, the worrisome kneading issues are much less common. Always prevent your kitty from making biscuits if they’re hurting the cat, other animals, or people.
Cats who were separated from their mothers early and those who are spayed and neutered are more likely to knead. Try to be patient with your cats, even though it’s hard when their ‘love’ is hurting you. After all, it’s instinct.
With enough TLC and patience, almost all cats can be diverted from the path of making human biscuits. Don’t expect to see changes overnight. It can take weeks or even months to convince your pet that this instinctive and lovey action is the wrong way to love and claim a human.
If your cat is acting compulsive or worried, pay attention to the clues, like too much kneading. When in doubt, ask a vet. Otherwise, try and enjoy your kitties love and work with them on more painless solutions.