Picture of a cat cuddling - why do they make biscuits and knead?

Why Do Cats Make Biscuits? (AKA Knead) The Answer May Surprise You

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Cats are notorious for being more standoffish than their canine contemporaries. But sometimes, they condescend to climb onto their people and ‘make biscuits’ (or “knead” – a pushing motion cats make with their paws, alternating from left to right). 

This unusual behavior can be painful for the person but is obviously a sign of affection from the contentedly purring cat. So, why do cats make biscuits

Why Do Cats Make Biscuits? 

There are various reasons cats make biscuits, the most common are: territory marking, expressing their comfort (with a blanket, or potentially with you), showing affection, or “burrowing” from predators.

Territory Marking

Like dogs, cats claim ownership of people, places, and things by covering them in pheromones. There are pheromones in the cat’s cheeks, which is why they brush up against you when they walk. 

But there are also scent glands in their paws, so when a cat kneads you, they mark their territory. 

Conveying Comfort 

Another reason why cats make biscuits is that they are expressing comfort. A kneading cat often purrs while they knead. 

Its true purring can be self-soothing, but there’s a difference between a cat’s anxious purr and a contented one. Most cat owners learn the difference quickly. And the purring that accompanies kneading behavior is the relaxed, luxurious purr of a happy feline.  

Why Do Cats Make Biscuits on You? 

So, that’s why cats make biscuits. But why do cats make biscuits on you? 

One theory is that this is old nursing behavior. Kittens knead their mothers to get them to express milk. When the milk appears, it promotes a positive association between making biscuits and food. 

And whereas dogs see humans as a different species, cats think of their owners as oversized fellow cats. So, when cats make biscuits on you, they are tapping into kittenhood and creating other positive associations between them and you. 

Why Do Cats Make Biscuits on Blankets? 

There are several reasons cats make biscuits on blankets. 

Partly this circles back to our earlier discussion of comfort. Cats are creatures of comfort, and one reason why they make biscuits on blankets is to get comfortable. 

But it also hearkens back to cats’ days in the wilderness. Undomesticated cats occupy a dual place in the food chain. They are simultaneously predators and prey. Domestic cats have never forgotten that. 

They are acutely aware of their vulnerabilities, especially when asleep and unprotected. For that reason, many domestic cats favor den-like, burrow-style or cave beds

When cats make biscuits on blankets, they tap into an instinctual need to make a den to keep them safe from bigger, fiercer predators. 

Why Do Cats Make Biscuits Before Bed? 

That’s also why cats make biscuits before bed. Even cats that don’t burrow tamp down their sleeping quarters. It guarantees comfort, and it reassures them that they will be safe from lurking predators. 

Why Do Cats Make Biscuits in the Air? 

Cats knead bedding for safety and comfort, and they knead humans to show affection. But why do cats make biscuits in the air? 

This is one of cats’ more baffling behaviors. The popular theory is that cats knead the air to stretch their claws. There are an astonishing number of muscles in cat claws, and kneading gives your cat a chance to stretch them, especially after a nap. 

Tips from Our Vets

Cats make excellent companions and bring so much joy to our lives. Unfortunately, however, they cannot speak to us.

If your pet exhibits odd behavior, it can be worrisome and difficult to know if the behavior is normal or a reason for concern.

Not sure why your cat is exhibiting a specific behavior?

  • Some behaviors can seem very odd but may be completely normal.
  • Others could signal illness or injury.
  • Due to the lack of ability for a cat to communicate with us verbally, it is imperative to pay close attention to what the cat is telling us through their behavioral changes.

The most important takeaway is that if you are ever concerned about a behavior that your cat is displaying, your best resource for information is your veterinarian.

In general, a new behavior that is not typical for your cat should be investigated. Examples would be:

  • Not eating
  • Suddenly sleeping more than usual
  • Becoming aggressive or grumpy when interacting with other people or pets

These behavior changes most commonly indicate that something is wrong, and your pet needs to see their veterinarian as soon as possible. It is much easier and more likely to be successful, to treat an illness early in its course as opposed to waiting until the cat is very sick.

Other odd behaviors include:

  • Eating feces or vomit
  • Chasing their tail
  • Sudden bursts of activity

These may be completely normal. However, if you notice a drastic change in your cat, for example, they never exhibited one of these behaviors, and now they suddenly are, it is prudent to have them examined by their veterinarian as soon as possible.

Even if the behavior is normal, it may lead to unintended issues.

For example, young cats consuming their feces or the feces of other cats can be a normal behavior but can lead to gastrointestinal upset as well as intestinal parasitism.

Parasites from your cat can cause serious health complications, not only for your cat, but also for you and your family, as many are transmissible to humans.

Licking of the feet or scratching may seem like normal cat behavior but typically indicates a health issue such as allergies, fleas, or skin infection.

Left untreated, these issues will worsen and cause additional discomfort for your cat.

Remember that your best source of reliable health information for your cat is your veterinarian. Because cats cannot verbally communicate with us, it is essential to be proactive with any possible health concerns.

Working with a trusted veterinarian as your partner will ensure many happy and healthy years for both you and your cat.

Final Thoughts: Why Do Cats Make Biscuits? 

Why do cats make biscuits? There are several reasons but these are the most popular explanations for the behavior.

  1. Your cat is being affectionate. 
  2. Your cat is marking territory. 
  3. Your cat wants to express comfort. 
  4. Your cat is burrowing or denning from predators. 
  5. Your cat is stretching their paws and claws.

If you’re wondering about other behaviors of your cat, we have a series of guides that explain why your cat may be doing what they’re doing:

Pet News Daily Staff
Pet News Daily writers are experts in pet care, health and behavior. We are members of Society for Professional Journalists and practice ethical journalism.