Why Do Cats Knead Dogs?


We know that our cats love to knead!

But did you know that kneading actually starts before kittens can even open their eyes?

Kneading is how kittens encourage milk production which means that before they can even see the world around them they’re being rewarded for kneading! That’s some serious positive reinforcement!

For some cats, that’s all they need to keep kneading well into adulthood. Whether that’s on their favorite blanket…or their favorite dog!

Wait a second…why would a cat knead a dog? The most likely explanation is that cats are simply feeling comfortable and happy around their canine friend and they’re expressing their contentment by kneading. Additionally, cats usually prefer kneading on things that are soft and warm, and dogs certainly meet these criteria! 

But that’s not the only explanation. Cats may also knead dogs as part of marking their territory or female cats may be going into heat and kneading anything!

Let’s look a little closer at each possible explanation for cats kneading their canine comrades!

Reason 1: Your Cat Feels Comfortable With Your Dog

Most experts agree that while there are many reasons for cats to knead, one of the most common is simply happiness overload. Kneading takes cats back to the comfort of their littermates, a belly full of milk, and the comforting purrs of their mom. As adults, they still find it a good way to express happiness and comfort. Cat expert Lana Rich explains, “It often happens when their favorite person (you!) is petting them, and they start the motion without even thinking about it.”

What does this have to do with dogs?

Your cat may be feeling that same content, joy, and happiness when they spend time with your dog. It’s likely that your pets have at least some kind of bond, or at the very least feel comfortable with each other.

Not only does your cat need to feel comfortable enough to start kneading your dog, but your dog needs to feel comfortable being kneaded too! I know my little cat would be happy to knead my dog but my pup would certainly not be up for that.

Reason 2: Your Dog Is Just A Cat Bed

Okay, if our first reason felt a little too sentimental then this one will be right up your alley.

As kittens, cats would have kneaded their mother for milk, and as adults felines seem to have a preference for kneading soft, warm things. That could be their favorite fleece blanket, your belly or even a dog. But cats also knead as a way to prepare an area for a nap and they would have seen their mother do this as she prepared a nest for them.

Your cat might just see the dog as a mobile cat bed that comes pre-warmed. The only thing left to do is get it ready with a little kneading. While I’m not saying there’s no love here between this cute little cat and his husky friend, it does seem like the primary goal here is to create the perfect cat bed:

Reason 3: Marking Territory

Cats are naturally territorial creatures and in the wild they’d control large areas of land. In order to make sure other cats knew the borders, they’d use a variety of scent marking techniques including scratching, cheek rubbing, and even kneading in some cases!

That’s because cats have scent glands not only in their cheeks but also their paws. Even though scratching is a more common way to put these scent glands to use, kneading is still a great way to claim their turf, even if that turf happens to be a dog.

Before you roll your eyes at the idea of a cat claiming a dog as territory, consider the last time your feline friend marked you as their territory!

Every time you enjoy a super cute cheek rub from your cat, you’re getting claimed! When cats rub their cheeks on you, also called bunting, they’re leaving their scent behind to let other felines know they were there. As the folks at Catster point out “In case anyone was wondering. It’s part of claiming their territory — and their territory extends to you!”

In short, your cat is marking your dog as theirs- or at least letting any other cat know that they made a bed of this dog. 

Reason 4: Your Dog Is Simply A Good Biscuit Making Station

As the folks at AAHA point out, “Kneading is an instinctive trait in cats, who often knead on a soft surface, such as a blanket, other cats, or your lap. Many cats will purr contentedly, drift off into sleep, or simply zone out and enjoy the motion.”

In other words, some cats will let instinct take over and knead on anything they can find that’s soft and warm. Many cats absolutely love fleece blankets and will knead on them almost regardless of whatever else is going on. I covered this extensively in my article about how to get your cat to knead (and why some don’t) if you’re interested in learning more.

Other cats may experience this same kneading instinct anytime they get close to their canine friend. In many ways, it has nothing to do with the dog. Instead, it’s all about finding something soft and warm. A fleece blanket would do just as well, but the dog just might be closer!

Reason 5: Your Female Cat Is In Heat

Lastly, a female cat may knead just before she goes into heat. This essentially means she’s getting ready to find a mate. A lot of weird things happen to cats in heat as they prepare to find any male cat within a several-mile radius

Not only do they become more affectionate and vocal, sometimes annoyingly so, but cats will also knead more than usual. While in heat, cats will knead just about anything and normal criteria of being soft and warm aren’t as important. She’ll be happy to knead anything in front of her, including your dog. 

Not only that but because she’s looking for a male cat to mate with and that’s (hopefully) not an option for her, she may become affectionate toward you or your dog instead. That leads to some very confused dogs– and of course kneading, too. 

The best solution here is to get your cat spayed as soon as possible. Spayed cats are healthier and live longer than unspayed cats on average.

Spaying your cat also cuts down on the number of cats in the world, which is a terrific thing considering the overpopulation of cats. To make things even easier, there are thousands of low-cost spay/neuter clients available thanks to PetSmart Charities

Your Cat Probably Isn’t A Masseuse

While it might be fun to think about, it’s unlikely that your cat is consciously massaging your dog. Kneading just has too many other functions! While kneading could signify that your dog and cat have a bond, it’s a bit of stretch to think our cats are saying to themselves”Hey, you know I like Fluffy so much I’m going to give him a back rub today!”

Instead, it’s much more likely to be one of the more instinct-driven reasons above.

Should I Worry About My Cat Kneading My Dog?

Kneading is completely normal behavior for cats and not something to worry about. The bigger issue with whether or not your dog is okay being kneaded!

As every cat parent knows, sometimes kneading can hurt as our happy kitties accidentally claw our skin. Of course, your cat isn’t trying to hurt your pup but sometimes it can happen.

Most dogs aren’t going to overreact and nip at the cat after the first painful knead but if it continues over time, and the cat isn’t getting the message, then it could eventually lead to serious problems.

Still, this is very unlikely and in the majority of cases kneading a dog doesn’t cause a problem. Most dogs will simply get up and walk away if they don’t want to be kneaded.

Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed can decrease the chance of them hurting your dog but it’s also an important part of taking care of your kitty.

How To Stop Cats From Kneading Dogs

If your dog is already annoyed by your cat’s need to knead, or you’re just not sure how your pup will react, you may want to avoid the situation altogether. You’ve got a few options for preventing cats from kneading dogs, and we’ll take a quick look at a few of them but if you’re looking for a more in-depth answer, check out this article that covers how to get your cat to stop kneading.

Never Punish Your Cat for Kneading

Kneading is an instinctive behavior, and your cat won’t understand why they’re being punished for something that comes naturally to them. Punishment may lead to fear or aggression in your cat and it will also damage your bond. 

Focus on Redirecting the Behavior

Kneading isn’t just going to stop. Your cat has too many reasons to do it and it’s a fundamental instinct. Instead, you’ve got a better chance of redirecting the behavior to a more appropriate area. You know, somewhere that isn’t the dog.

As I’ve already mentioned, most cats can’t resist getting in a biscuit making session on a fleece blanket and this budget-friendly blanket on Amazon is usually what I recommend. Place the blanket near the dog’s normal hangout and praise your cat for using it. In most cases, cats will prefer kneading the fleece instead of the dog.

Closing Thoughts

I think most cat parents would agree that cats kneading on dogs are cute. Even better, many dogs seem happy enough to get a free massage even if they are a little confused.

There are several reasons why cats would knead dogs and even though it’s unlikely that your cat decided the dog needs a relaxing massage, there’s still probably some kind of bond.

Does your cat knead your dog? What does your pup think of it?

Logan M.

Logan has always loved everything about cats! Growing up with a family full of pets and a lifelong passion for animals he pursued work in the veterinary industry. After 10 years, he started BetterWithCats.net to help cat owners learn more about their feline friends.

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