Why Do Cats Make Biscuits?

By Langley Cornwell

Okay, I’ll come right out and admit it – my cat sleeps right on top of me. When I fall asleep on my back, he falls asleep on my stomach. If I roll over, he rolls with me and sleeps against my back or my front, depending on which way he flops when I roll.

My husband (relegated to the far other side of the bed) laughingly asks how it feels to have the equivalent of a watermelon balancing on me while I sleep. It’s true; our cat is a big guy. It took me a while to get used to our sleeping arrangements but he is so cuddly and loving that I persevered.

There’s one thing he does during our highly choreographed slumber, however, that I cannot get used to. There are times when he’ll wake up and start kneading on my back, and then he starts purring loud enough to wake the neighbors. This kneading or ‘making biscuits’ is a deal breaker. Once he begins, there is no way I can fall back to sleep. After a while, the kneading and purring starts to feel like water torture, especially if you’re starving for sleep.

Kneading is a common feline trait. Much like grooming after a meal or curling up in a tight ball for a nap, kneading is just one of those things that cats do. And while the act of kneading is the same—pushing their paws in and out while switching from the left to the right paw—cats knead in different ways. Some cats keep their claws retracted the whole time while other cats extend their claws on the push motion and retract them on the pull-back motion. Thankfully, my cat keeps his claws retracted the entire time so there’s no pain involved but still…could you sleep during a kneading and purring session?

According to the catster website, cats like to knead on soft, supple surfaces and the motion is usually accompanied by purring and/or cooing. My neighbor’s cat seems to hypnotize himself when he kneads. His eyes fall to half-mast and take on a glazed look. I’ve even seen him start to drool when he gets the perfect rhythm going. The complete state of relaxation he reaches makes me want to master the art of kneading.

I was hoping catster could explain why cats knead, but apparently there are a variety of theories. It’s certainly an instinctive behavior. Most cat lovers have seen baby kittens knead their mother’s stomach while they nurse. I assumed that motion allowed newborn kittens to ‘pump’ more milk into their mouths.

We rescued our cat at a very tender age; he didn’t have the opportunity to nurse long enough. He wasn’t properly weaned and used to try and suckle our dog, or anything else he could latch on to. A friend told me our cat kneaded a lot because he was separated from his mother when he was too young and, therefore, didn’t properly mature. The immature part could be true, our cat is a complete clown, but research indicates that’s an outdated notion. It seems that kneading has nothing to do with weaning age. It’s simply an instinctive characteristic that is comforting to cats.

Additionally, when a cat is kneading you (or an inanimate object) he’s marking. The soft pads on a cat’s paw have scent glands and when he kneads, he’s releasing his scent onto the surface of whatever it is that he’s kneading. This scent marks his possessions and his territory.  Learning all of this makes me glad of two things: 1) that our cat loves me enough to claim me as his own and 2) that he’s not marking me another way.

Even though my cat’s kneading is distracting (sometimes aggravating) when I’m trying to sleep, I would never punish him for an instinctive behavior. I have tried to gently hold his front paws still until he falls back to sleep. I’ve also tried to maneuver out of his reach until he stops the motion. Sometimes one or a combination of those two activities will quell the biscuit making.

Do your cats knead on you?

Photo by Janet Morrell

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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26 thoughts on “Why Do Cats Make Biscuits?

  1. All my cats are kneaders. I have 7. And a few on the way. I find it comforting when my female cats Patches and Midnight. lay on my chest and start kneading and purring. Helps me sleep. But the claws hurt so I pull the covers up under there claws. My male cats Oreo and Shadow no longer knead as they no longer sleep with me or my husband. Plus they don’t like sleeping on the bed when the dogs take up all of the extra room on the bed.

  2. My cat does a bee line for my balls, which suffice to say, is not Kosher with me. Love him to death, but I'm gonna be breaking my old cup out. That should confuse him!

  3. My girl Princess (who passed last year) was declawed when I got her and when she made biscuits on me, it felt wonderful! She would get behind me on the couch and do it in my shoulders after I would get home from work. It was almost like she knew they were bothering me! Now my boy Lucky leaves his claws out the whole time so if I don't have a blanket over me, it can get kinda painful!

  4. Young Hades (7monthes) has a tendency to jump up on my lap and knead my lap for thirty minutes (no joke) doing nothing but kneading. Once he gets particularly bored, he jumps off. Not actually sitting down mind you. His latest addition to this strange habit is to bite, and latch on to either my arm or whatever is covering my arm (jacket, blanket, etc). If I move even slightly he loudly complains. I must say, this whole process seems entirely too distressing for the poor thing and I can't quiet understand why he continues to do it.

  5. Mama Tuesday does it when we snuggle together. However, she was backed over by my neighbor’s truck, causing her to break her pelvis in three places. While at the veterinarian, she was makin’ muffins and purring the ENTIRE time. We’re at the 5 week mark since the accident and she’s doing GREAT! And…still makin’ muffins!!!

  6. My 2 young cats (brothers) have a blanket they nurse on, and Pippi my kitten has a pillow she nurses. Muffin once woke me up pounding on my chest! And he uses his claws LOL

  7. Oh… yes. All of my cats and every foster I’ve ever had come through here does the “making biscuits” or “Happy Feet” as we call it here. On me, on my clothing, on the furniture. I have a couple that use claws, so a lot of stuff has little claw holes in it around here, LOL.

    I only WISH I could get one to do that on my back, though. That might actually feel like a nice back massage. So of course none of them have obliged me.

  8. Angel doesn’t knead me, but she kneads the bedspread, and she kneads with the clawing action, so very detrimental to the spread. If I hold her claws and say “stop” a couple of times, she usually stops. Very rarely, she’ll jump on my lap and try to knead me, but stops as soon as I say “ouch!” She used to sleep curled up against me, but lately, she only does occasionally. She used to get up next to me and “fall” into me trying to get as close as possible. Now she just curls up somewhere close to my chest. She’s also gotten very vocal lately. Cats are strange, but I love them with all my heart.

  9. Very interesting post! Austin is a kneady cat too, especially on me. He’s a claws out cat though which isn’t always pleasant! He also drools while he kneads!! Oh and purrs very loudly :)

  10. Haha! Great! My Kitty pal, Keeko, sleeps on me, too — often going back and forth to and from me to my husband.

    I sleep on my side, and he sprawls along my side, feet dangling across my front and back, with his face looking down at me from over my shoulder. He’s always there when I wake, looking at me patiently with his big green eyes, as if to say, “About time you woke up!”

    He doesn’t knead all that often, unless he’s stressed out, not feeling well, or I’M not feeling well. That’s good, because he tends to extend his claws when “making biscuits”. I never have the heart to stop him, though, as he seems to be needing to do that at those times.

  11. Pooh (before he died) would knead constantly! Though, I will say, it would relax me enough to put me to sleep…Every night he would come in, climb on my pillow and start a soft purr…that was my cue to roll over on my side so he could bury his face in my neck and start kneading my shoulder. Since Pooh has passed away, I can’t seem to get to sleep :/ I miss that furbaby for more than a few reasons!

  12. I have had two cats who are “biscuit makers”. They are both muted Tortoise Shells. The first one would knead my shoulder while she sucked on my earlobe, which can get a little disgusting after a while, and the second one (did not have these cats together) would lay across my chest and knead my shoulder. If I wore any wool sweater she finds a place to suck on that while she is kneading. What I have read about Torties tells me that this is usual behavior for them. Mine seem to find real comfort in these activities and my more recent one Zkhat comes to me every evening after supper to do it. Whatever it is, its interesting!.

  13. I have had two cats who are “biscuit makers”. They are both muted Tortoise Shells. The first one would knead my shoulder while she sucked on my earlobe, which can get a little disgusting after a while, and the second one (did not have these cats together) would lay across my chest and knead my shoulder. If I wore any wool sweater she finds a place to suck on that while she is kneading. What I have read about Torties tells me that this is usual behavior for them. Mine seem to find real comfort in these activities and my more recent one Zkhat comes to me every evening after supper to do it. Whatever it is, its interesting!.

  14. Mahoney would need a certain blanket and try to nurse on it too. But I took her Mom away since I didn’t know the Mom had kittens so Mahoney missed out on lots of nursing. But I took the blanket away from her and she doesn’t do it any more. Most of the cats here do not do any kneading.

  15. My newest cat Sadie does this on me whenever and whereever. It can sometimes hurt because she is a tiny compact Bombay, and those tiny round paws can makes some uncomfortable pressure points when you have a 8lb kitty pushing on you!

  16. We called it “Purring thing” with Pretzel. He usually picked a sore body part to knead and that was fine, sometimes he choose a part that wasn’t sore but the next day it would be, so he used his cat psychic ability then! The worst was when he insisted on kneading stomachs during bouts of the stomach flu!

  17. Pocah always makes biscuits on my pillows, the self-made cat beds, and on my chest. It hurt a little but I couldn’t stop her cause she had this innocent face that made me melt. Sure, in the morning I noticed the scratch and claw marks on the top of my breasts but if it’s her way of showing her affection towards me I’ll suffer through it. She also greets me and follows me whenever I’m home. Sleeps in the same areas as me and always has her eye tweaked a little open in case I get up to go anywhere.

  18. My Bella ‘plays the piano’ when she kneads. Its so gentle and the claws are always in. On the other hand, Shadow is not making biscuits – he’s making a giant loaf of bread. Claws out (and he has huge paws and claws). He holds a corner of a blanket in his mouth while he kneads. He purrs loudly and drools, and sometimes does it until he falls asleep.

  19. My cat is a kneader. But he’s not declawed and chooses to knead with his claws extended, and due to that fact, if I don’t stop him, I end up with scratches all over!

    I know it’s comforting and I don’t like having to stop him, but, what other choice do I have? I haven’t found anything else he loves to knead except me! I really wish I could!

  20. Chumley would suckle on me every chance he got, and he was a great biscuit-maker. Annie would knead a bit, for a short time, but it wasn’t really her thing.

    Nick’s a BIG kneader, though he doesn’t do it on me at all. He has his favourite, cushy spots to do it.

    Interestingly, Derry didn’t knead at all for the longest time. He’s only recently learned to do it from watching Nicki, and while he’ll knead for a short time, I don’t think he really gets the appeal.

  21. Yep – we get mom. Tim is the master kneader around here….he is also the gauge as to when our nails get clipped. If he is kneading and mom is saying “ow ow ow” the clippers are coming out. :) Our angel Butterscotch used to get a rhythm going and his nose would start to run.

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