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10 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Kneading and Purring – Deciphering Cat Behavior

kitten kneeding, making biscuits, kitten playing on soft surface

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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We’ve all experienced getting into bed for the night, turning off the lights, then having our cat jump up to sit on top of us, kneading and purring away. It can be pretty comforting and a good way to drift off to sleep, but why exactly is our cat doing it? Are they simply content and getting ready for a night of sleep as well? 

Felines are crepuscular, so they’re definitely not getting ready for a good night’s sleep with us, but kneading and purring can absolutely be a sign of contentedness! It can also signify a few other things, though. If your cat is a big fan of kneading and purring, and you’ve been wondering what it all means, then keep reading to find out!

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What Is Kneading?

Otherwise referred to as “making biscuits”, kneading occurs when felines take their paws and push them down against a surface (usually soft) while alternating between each foot. It looks similar to kneading dough, hence why we call it “making biscuits”. Not every cat does it, but a good majority do. 

And how cats knead can differ—some incorporate their claws, some knead only soft surfaces, and others will stick to kneading their people. It just depends on the cat. And purring isn’t always part of the equation during a kneading session, but it often is.

The 10 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Kneading and Purring

1. Affection

cat lying on passenger seat in a car while kneading owner's hand
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

Felines have plenty of ways to show their humans affection, but kneading and purring are one of the most often used. By kneading you and purring, your cat is claiming you as one of its own (and possibly marking you as its as well). So, if kitty starts this up while you’re drifting off to sleep or snuggled up on the sofa, return that affection with plenty of petting!


2. Wants Attention

A white coated cat lying on an hp laptop
Image Credit: Tra My, Unsplash

How often have you been sitting at your computer, working away, only to have your cat come up to distract you by kneading and purring? (Face it, all cat parents have experienced this!) In that case, your feline friend is likely politely requesting you stop paying attention to whatever you’ve been doing and pay attention to it instead. And chances are you taught them that doing this will get them the attention they’re craving because past you stopped what you were doing to pet them or move them aside. 


3. Relaxed and Happy

american shorthair cat sleeping
Image Credit: Apisit Hrpp, Shutterstock

Kneading and purring can also simply indicate that your kitty is relaxed and happy. If this is the reason for the kneading, you’ll also likely notice that your pet is giving you plenty of slow blinks, sounds like a tiny motor, and looks incredibly sleepy. In fact, kitty might end up just falling asleep right where it is within a few minutes.


4. Instinct

cat kneading
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Likely the biggest reason your cat kneads and purrs is simple instinct. Kittens that are nursing automatically know to knead mama cat to stimulate milk production, and that association of being rewarded with food after kneading is a positive one that tends to stick throughout their life. That means even as they get older, they’ll often continue kneading behavior because it reminds them of comfort and pleasantness. 


5. Making a Bed

cat lying on a cat bed
Image Credit: VGstockstudio, Shutterstock

Occasionally cats will knead and purr because they’re making themselves a cozy bed. Blame it on their wild ancestors that would make the ground they were sleeping on comfier by kneading at the grass and leaves to create a sleeping nest. It’s similar to how we fluff pillows before laying down on them. So, if you see kitty kneading a blanket, there’s a good chance it’s getting ready to take a nap. 


6. Stress

stressed white cat on the floor
Image Credit: Hunt Han, Unsplash

Your favorite feline could also be kneading to soothe itself when it’s stressed or anxious. If this is the reason, kitty likely won’t fall asleep while engaging in kneading behavior (or right after). You may also notice that your pet’s tail is flicking or being held against the body, dilated pupils, or pinned-back ears. If you believe your cat is stressed, there are ways you can help it destress—changing up the environment if needed or using calming sprays, among other things.


7. Marking Territory

cat claws when kneading
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

Cats can be incredibly territorial, especially if there are multiple cats in the home. That means kitty absolutely must mark that territory, so other felines know it’s theirs and to stay away. One way your cat does this is by leaving a scent behind via one of the many scent glands they have. You’ll find these glands in the cheeks, face, and paws. So, when your pet begins kneading and purring away on a particular spot (or you), it could be marking its territory and leaving behind a message that says, “Stay away; this is mine!”.


8. Stretching

long haired cat stretching in an outdoor catio
Image Credit: SariMe, Shutterstock

You know your kitty loves a good stretch every now and then; it’s one reason cats enjoy scratching posts so much. Scratching posts enable your pet to stretch out all sorts of muscles in the back and legs. But sometimes, your cat might use kneading as a form of stretching. Think of it as a mini-yoga session for kitty!


9. In Heat

cat in heat bends in an arm chair
Image Credit: iwciagr, Shutterstock

If your female feline isn’t fixed, then kneading and purring could be an indication that your pet is in heat. When females go into heat, they want to attract mates, and one way they go about doing that is by laying on their sides or backs and making biscuits in the air. This lets any males around know the female cat is in the mood to mate. 

Of course, if your cat is in heat, you’ll also see other signs, such as yowling or being more affectionate than usual (which could result in more kneading on you too). It’s advisable to have your cat spayed to eliminate these behaviors (plus, spaying has many other benefits as well!).  


10. About to Give Birth

pregnant-white-cat
Image Credit: Boy77, Shutterstock

Finally, if your cat is pregnant and you find it kneading away in a queening box or on a blanket, it could be a sign that your pet is about to give birth. Pregnant cats will often start making a nest of sorts when in the first stages of labor to get ready for the kittens. 

So, if your feline has been pregnant for about two months and is constantly kneading in its queening box or elsewhere, congratulations because you’re about to have grandkittens!

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Conclusion

Kneading and purring are perfectly normal kitty behaviors that most cats engage in often. Kneading may occur without purring, but purring with kneading will usually indicate relaxation, happiness, or affection. 

And the majority of the time, there’s no reason to be concerned with your pet’s kneading and purring; however, if they are showing odd behavior along with the kneading, it could be that the cat is stressed, in heat, or about to have kittens. If you want to know why your pet is kneading and purring, look at the context in which it engages in this behavior to find clues!


Featured Image Credit: Anna Hoychuck, Shutterstock

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