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Many cat parents love when cats knead! That’s why we have so many names for it ranging from making biscuits, playing the piano, mashing taters, happy paws and more!
But sometimes kneading isn’t so great. It could be because cats are kneading on items we don’t want claws on, waking us up in the middle of the night to make biscuits (figuratively of course) or because they’re kneading us and it hurts!
So how can we stop a cat from kneading? It’s going to be difficult to completely stop your cat from kneading, instead, a better option is to keep your cat’s nails trimmed and redirect the behavior to more appropriate areas where kneading won’t be a problem. Many cats prefer kneading fleece blankets so these make a great option for redirecting your cat’s kneading behavior.
We’re going to cover everything you need to know about effectively redirecting your cat’s kneading behavior but first let’s make sure we understand why our cats knead in the first place.
Why Do Cats Knead?
Kneading is an instinctual behavior in our cats and one that starts before our little feline friends even open their eyes! That’s because cats knead on their mother in order to release milk which means that kneading immediately gets a ton of important positive reinforcement as kittens quickly associate kneading with delicious milk.
While kneading is important for kittens, that doesn’t explain why this behavior continues long into adulthood.
So let’s look at a few reasons why our cats keep kneading.
Cats Knead When They’re Happy!
Similar to purring, which also has its roots in early kittenhood, many cats knead when they’re feeling comfortable, safe, and happy!
Unfortunately, this can also lead to one of the most common problematic kneading scenarios as some cats knead almost everything when they’re pet which can be a little uncomfortable for us!
Most experts suggest that cats associate kneading with their earliest feelings of happiness and security and not only do they continue the behavior when they’re happy as adults but they may also find kneading comforting all on its own.
In the wild, cats will paw and knead at whatever material they have available in order to create a comfortable and well-insulated bed. Our cats would have seen their mother do this too as she prepared a nest for her little kittens.
While this isn’t exactly necessary for the modern housecat who has usually has plenty of comfortable bedding, the instinct still lives on.
Marking Their Territory
Even though it’s not always obvious in the modern home, our cats are territorial creatures. In the wild, they would control large areas of land and their feral cousins still do this today.
Our cats use a variety of tools for marking their turf and one of the most powerful is scent. Cats have several scent glands, including a special scent gland in their paws and kneading is an excellent way for them to place this scent. While there are certainly other ways for cats to mark their space, like cheek marking and scratching, some cats seem to prefer kneading.
Instincts Are Very Difficult To Change
With just a brief overview of why cats knead it should be clear that this behavior is deeply rooted in instincts and reinforced before kittens can even open their eyes.
That means that kneading behavior is going to be difficult, if not impossible to simply stop.
Instead, we’ll want to focus on managing the negative aspects of kneading and trying to redirect kneading into a more appropriate place and time.
When it comes to stopping our cats from kneading, punishment shouldn’t be on the list of options. It’s generally ineffective and downright confusing for our cats. After all, kneading is an instinctual behavior for our feline friends and the last thing we want to do is punish them for pursuing their natural instincts.
We covered this extensively when we discussed why you shouldn’t spray your cat with water but the idea that a loud noise or some water is going to reverse a couple thousand years of evolution and instinct is crazy! It’s also very likely that your cat will fail to connect whatever punishment you use to kneading in the first place. They’re much more likely to just associate the negative experience with you which will only hurt the human-feline bond.
Another major problem with punishment is that you can’t be present at all times. Your cat will still knead, they’ll just learn they can’t do it when your present.
So skip the water bottles, jars full of pennies, or trying to scare your cat into stopping the kneading instinct. Instead, we’ll focus on three proven strategies: management, redirection and deterrents.
Managing Too Much Kneading
The exact process for managing too much kneading is going to depend on the problem the kneading is causing but let’s look at a few examples.
Keep Nails Trimmed
Sharp nails can be painful to humans or even destroy fabrics. While some cats are great at making biscuits without using their claws, others can’t seem to help themselves.
But many of the problems around kneading can be resolved by keeping your cat’s nails trimmed. Not only will regularly trimming your cat’s nails help with kneading issues, but it’s also an important part of regular cat care and something you can’t ignore.
Some folks are intimidated by the process of trimming their cat’s nails and while it’s true that many cats aren’t exactly fans of the process, once you get the hang of it, it can be done very quickly. You’ll want to find a friend to help and make sure you’ve got a pair of trimmers that are actually made for cats since they’re smaller and easier to hold. I always recommend this simple and budget-friendly pair on Amazon.
If you’re noticing your cat getting stuck to fabric as they knead, or even just walk around, then a nail trim is definitely in order.
Nail Caps Are A Great Option
While trimming is a great place to start, some vigorous kneaders will still tear up fabric or hurt skin even after trimming. For these kitties, nail caps or covers can make a great option. Again, some folks are going to be a bit intimated by the process of placing these but I promise you’ll quickly get the hang of it!
When these first started getting popular they were a bit pricey but now you can find a pack of 140 caps on Amazon that have awesome reviews without breaking the budget. While it’s obviously not the most important aspect here, these caps can look pretty cute, too. Check out the photos from one Amazon reviewer of a handsome kitty showing off his claw caps!
What’s great about nail caps is that they completely cover the claws so your cat can knead as enthusiastically as they want without issue.
Declawing Isn’t Even A Choice
While removing the claws might seem like a simple solution for stopping problem kneading…it’s not.
Declawing does a lot more than just remove the claws. As the Humane Society of the United States explains, “Too often, people think that declawing is a simple surgery that removes a cat’s nails—the equivalent of having your fingernails trimmed. Sadly, this is far from the truth. Declawing traditionally involves the amputation of the last bone of each toe. If performed on a human being, it would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle.”
Ouch. Not only is the actual procedure painful, but it can also have long-lasting negative impacts including pain, arthritis, and changes in behavior.
With options like claw caps readily available, there’s really no good reason to ever declaw a cat.
When Kneading Hurts, Let Your Cat Know
When kneading hurts, you can let your cat know with a high-pitched yelp that mimics the sound a kitten would make. It’s important to make sure this happens immediately as cats need instant feedback that the kneading hurts. You’ll also want to stop petting your cat or otherwise engaging with your cat in order to really send the message.
While this shouldn’t be your primary method of managing problematic kneading it has the chance to be effective, especially with younger cats. The idea here is to mimic the reaction a kitten or mom cat would give a kitten when play gets too rough.
Don’t expect this to work wonders but it can help your cat understand that using claws when kneading hurts and ends whatever kind of attention they were getting.
Redirecting The Behavior
After we’ve considered our options for managing the behavior, it’s time to look at redirection methods.
But what is redirection?
The goal of redirection is not to stop the behavior but instead encourage our cat to do it somewhere appropriate. Remember, it’s unlikely that we can just stop our cat from kneading. It’s an instinctual behavior and it’s honestly just part of being a cat.
But instead, we can encourage our cat to knead somewhere that it won’t be a problem.
Offer an Appropriate Alternative
Cats that love to knead usually can’t resist fleece! In fact, it was our number one recommendation to encourage cats to knead in our article on why some cats don’t knead at all. While that’s an entirely different and opposite problem, a handy fleece blanket will still help here!
You can use any kind of fleece material but I recommend this simple and budget-friendly option on Amazon. It comes in more than a dozen colors and it’s the kind of soft, microfiber fleece that cats love.
Kinda like this little guy:
Pick the Perfect Spot
When you first introduce the fleece to your cat, you’ll want to put it where they’re already kneading even if it’s not the ideal location. So if you’re cat is kneading on pillows at night (and waking you up) you’ll want to start by placing the fleece on the pillows.
I know that’s a little disappointing and you’re probably eager to get your cat to start kneading somewhere else. But first, we want to get our cat excited about using the fleece and associating kneading with it over other items. After a few days, you can move the blanket to a preferred location.
Sweeten the Deal with Feliway, Catnip, or Other Scents
While the fleece material alone will be attractive enough to many cats, you may also want to sweeten the deal with some extra scents or treats. You’ve actually got a lot of options here and if there’s something your cat is already attracted to, you can start with that.
Remember, our goal is to encourage our cat to explore and eventually knead on the fleece blanket instead of anything else. Over time, they’ll find that the combination of interesting smells and material make the blanket a better spot to knead than on your head in the middle of the night! Using scents isn’t required, but they can help.
Use Your Own Scent
The easiest, and absolutely free option, is to add your own scent the fleece. Just sleep with the blanket for a night and then place it in your preferred location. The fleece will instantly have the familiar smell of you and your home and most cats will find that calming.
But if you want to step things up another level, you can pick up some Feliway and spray it on the fleece blanket. According to The Ohio State School of Veterinary Medicine, “Feliway spray is a feline facial pheromone analog. That means that it is a man-made version of the substance your cat deposits when she rubs her cheek on your leg or furniture. The smell tells the cat she is in a safe place.”
Feliway can encourage cats to use the blanket and while there are arguments and studies on both sides in terms of the effectiveness of Feliway, it’s usually a scent that cats are at least interested in. You can see the latest price for a single spray bottle of Feliway on Amazon by clicking here.
Catnip Can Be A Great Option
Then there’s the classic catnip option. Some cats will have a kneading response with catnip on any surface so sprinkling a little on the fleece blanket can really get them interested in kneading. You can also get a whole pile of catnip off Amazon without breaking the bank and you’ll have plenty left over for special occasions, too!
Just know that younger cats, under 6 months old, are unlikely to have a reaction and according to some studies as many as 50% of cats will have no reaction at all. But if your cat is already a known catnip love then this can make a great option.
Keep It Simple With Food Or Treats!
Food always makes a good option and you can try wrapping a few treats into the blanket. Not only will the smell attract your cat but they’ll also get used to digging around in the blanket which will take them one step closer to kneading!
When Cats Suckle and Knead
Some cats use more than just their claws and will also suckle and bite while they knead. Not only can this lead to claws destroying fabric, but it’s also not exactly great to have a bunch of cat slobber on your favorite blanket either!
While it’s more common in Siamese and Birman cats, the most common material for this behavior is wool. I haven’t found any research to suggest why wool is preferred by cats but it’s a clear winner. Cats might consume things made of wool – such as blankets, jackets, and socks, according to Pam Johnson-Bennett from the Cat Behavior Associate. This is a condition called pica, which is when cats eat non-nutritional objects.
Not all cats that suckle and knead on blankets or other objects have pica but the lines can sometimes get blurry which is why it’s important to pay close attention to what your cat is actually doing. If you think your cat is eating anything other than food then you’ll want to remove access to these objects and consult your veterinarian.
On the other hand, if your cat is just kneading and suckling fabric then introducing a budget-friendly wool blanket like this one on Amazon can be a great redirection technique. As long as suckling and kneading doesn’t turn to eating, a simple wool blanket may be able to save your other fabric items.
Positively Reinforce the Behavior
Anytime your cat does something you want, make sure to give them plenty of positive reinforcement to further encourage the behavior! It could be as simple as giving your cat extra pets whenever you see them kneading on their designated blanket or in a specific area.
Your cat will quickly learn that when they knead on their fleece in the right spot, they also get some extra petting.
What About Deterrents?
Once we’ve got a system for managing and redirecting problematic kneading, all while positively reinforcing good kneading habits, we can add in some simple deterrents to help the overall process.
While they might seem similar at first, deterrents are very different from punishments in two major ways.
First, deterrents work 24 hours a day and 7 days a week- whether you’re home or not. Punishment on the other hand typically relies on you being there. Second, deterrents don’t create any kind of negative association with you. Instead, it’s just something in the world that stops your cat from kneading in a certain area and has nothing to do with their human friend.
So what deterrents work? The best option is going to be a double-sided tape. If your cat is kneading in a certain area, then you can use double-sided sticky tape to prevent your cat from reaching their naughty kneading space. This kind of tape is more commonly recommended for cats that are scratching furniture but it can absolutely work here, too.
Again, redirection is critical here and you shouldn’t use something like sticky tape without giving your cat a good alternative to knead. You could use tape you have around the house but your best option is to use cat-specific tape like this one on Amazon. Not only is it purpose-built to act as a cat deterrent without damaging household items but it’s also non-toxic and adhesives can have a surprising amount of undesirable compounds in them.
Cat kneading is cute!
Except when it isn’t.
Kneading can damage household items and in many cases, it just plain hurts!
But we can’t tell our cats to just stop kneading! It’s a behavior that’s deeply rooted in their feline instincts. Instead, we need to focus on managing the kneading, redirecting the behavior to something more appropriate, and in some cases even adding in a deterrent to further discourage our cat from kneading.
Not only is this more effective than methods like punishment, but it also makes for happier cats!