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Why Doesn’t My Cat Knead?

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Cats are famous for kneading. Or maybe you call it making muffins, preparing biscuits, showing off their happy paws, playing the piano, mashing the taters, or any of the other names for this cute cat behavior!

The fact that we have so many names to describe something so simple shows just how much humans love this cute cat behavior.

But what if you’re left out of the mashed potato and biscuit-making games and your cat just doesn’t knead?

Why would a cat not knead? For some cats, kneading just isn’t their style and they choose to express themselves in other ways. This is even more likely if your cat had an unusual kittenhood but in other cases, cats just may not have found the right material to knead.  

There’s also the chance that if your cat is still new to the home, then they might not feel comfortable enough to start making biscuits. While rarer, some cats choose not to knead because it’s painful. This is most common in the case of declawed cats but can be caused by other injuries, too.

We’re going to take a closer look at each of these 5 explanations and we’ll cover how you can encourage your cat to start kneading. But first, we need to briefly cover why cats knead in the first place. After all, before we can understand why a cat doesn’t do something we first need to understand why they take on the behavior in the first place.

Let’s get started!

Why Do Cats Knead?

Kneading begins very early in kittenhood. In fact, before cats have even opened their eyes, they’re already kneading while they nurse in order to help stimulate the release of more milk.

That also means that kneading is one of the first behaviors that’s positively reinforced in our cats. For a newborn kitten, having a hearty serving of milk is about as good as it gets and they quickly learn that more kneading means more milk. That means kneading is connected to positive sensations before our cats can even see the world around them!

Okay, so kneading starts as a practical instinct and evolutionary behavior for our kittens…but why do they keep this up well into adulthood?

Comfort and Happiness

One major explanation why cats continue to knead is because it’s comforting, calming, and something they association with happiness. This makes sense when we consider the times that cats most often knead which are typically when they’re feeling cozy and comfortable.

For many cats petting often leads to kneading but others may knead every time they interact with any kind of soft material. This also makes sense when you consider that a kitten would instinctively knead on their mom’s soft and mushy milk glands.

It’s possible that kneading gives cats a bit of nostalgia as it reminds them of nursing on their mother. It’s also possible that cats simply knead when they’re happy because that’s what they did as kittens. You can consider it the feline version of a “happy dance” and a sort of cousin to purring. When cats are happy, they may want to double down on it by kneading!

Nesting Behavior

Other cats may knead as part of creating the perfect spot for a nap. In the wild, cats will paw and knead at leaves, grass, and other natural bedding before they lay down. As kittens, our cats would have seen their mother do the same thing as she prepared the perfect area for her kittens to rest.

We all know that cats can be very particular about finding the perfect napping location and kneading may just be part of their process. Some cats also seem to get a bit carried away and what might start as getting ready for a nap may just turn into a biscuit-making binge as they enjoy the comfort of kneading.

In other cases, cats will still knead a potential bed even if it’s not a material that can actually be kneaded. This is similar to the way that cats will scratch around their food bowl to cover it up even if their food is on a tile floor. In other words, this behavior is sometimes based on instinct and not logic so even if your cat isn’t actually changing the material they’re about to lay on, they may still be compelled to knead.

Marking Their Territory

Cats are naturally territorial creatures and in the wild they would control large areas of land. They’d use a variety of techniques to mark off their turf and let other cats know what belonged to them…and what didn’t.

Scent is one of the most important tools for establishing territory and while cats have several methods for leaving their scent in the right places, they also have special scent glands in their paws that they use to mark their territory. Cats will most often scratch to place their scent, which is one of the many reasons why even declawed cats still need to scratch, but some cats may also knead as a way to deposit their scent.

There Probably Isn’t Just One Reason

All these reasons work together to reinforce the kneading behavior. In other words, it’s difficult to point to just one explanation and say that’s definitively why a cat is kneading. For example, a cat might start kneading a blanket to place their scent on it and prepare the area for a nap. They might find the entire process comforting and relaxing and continue kneading long after the bed is “made” and the scent is placed.

In that example, all three motivations for kneading are happening at one time!

Why Some Cats Don’t Knead?

While the need to mark their territory, seek comfort, or show happiness are important and even essential cat behaviors, kneading is not the only way for cats to act on these instincts.

That means that just because a cat doesn’t knead it doesn’t also mean that they aren’t happy, comfortable, or eager to mark their turf. Instead, it just means that they’ve chosen other ways to do these things.

So the real question is why would cats choose not to knead? Let’s look at a few of the most likely explanations.

Reason 1: Your Cat Had An Unusual Kittenhood

We know that cats knead very early in kittenhood…but what if your cat had an unusual kittenhood?

This can certainly change how cats knead but it’s difficult to pin down exactly how as different cats will have different reactions. Kittens without moms will still knead but they might not make the same types of associations or find it as comforting as cats with a mom.

However, and this where things get confusing, the opposite is also true. Kittens that were separated from their mom too early may actually knead more! The idea here is that these kittens didn’t get to go through the natural growth and development process with support from their mother so instead of reducing the habit as they got older, they just kept kneading.

My cat Debbie was brought into a shelter when she was only 2 weeks old and I bottle-fed her through her entire kittenhood. She also went a little knead-crazy up until she was months old or so and would knead on everything! I’ve also seen the opposite reaction where a bottle-fed kitten never kept up with the kneading and didn’t continue it into adulthood.

So while I can’t say for sure which direction your cat will go, if they had an unusual kittenhood, there’s a chance you can expect some unusual kneading habits too.

Reason 2: They’re A Little Nervous Still

While this applies most to cats that are newer to your home, it can still take some time for cats to feel comfortable enough to knead. Remember, we mentioned that some cats knead as a reaction to comfort, security, and safety. Cats that are still learning about their new home, and the people and pets in it, may need a little extra time before they start making biscuits.

So if your cat is still new to the home, give it more time! Your feline friend just might not feel completely comfortable yet!

Reason 3: Your Cat Hasn’t Found The Right Spot…Yet!

For many cats, kneading is closely associated with a specific material. They need something soft, warm, and a little mushy to really start making biscuits since that’s similar to their mom’s mammary glands.

Sadly, my cat seems to be sending me a message that my stomach is just mushy enough to remind her of a mom cat!

But tummies aside, some cats that aren’t kneading just might not have found the right material for them to work with yet. In other words, they’re biscuit makers without the right dough. I’ve found that the majority of cats can’t resist a soft fleece blanket and I picked up a budget-friendly one on Amazon which you can see here. I’m certainly not the only person who’s discovered this and the internet is full of fleece-loving kitties just kneading away.

I will occasionally walk into my room and see my cat kneading on this fleece with nothing else going on. She was apparently just so compelled by the soft material that she wanted to do some kneading!

Reason 4: It’s Just Not Your Cat’s Style

While it’s not the most scientific explanation, for some cats kneading just might not be their thing.

Our cats have preferences and dislikes just any other creature and while there’s a mountain of evidence why cats might like to knead, some cats just might prefer to express themselves in other ways.

For example, cats could mark their territory by scratching instead of kneading. They could express their comfort and contentment with a purr (which is also deeply tied to their kittenhood) instead of kneading. They might also find their bedding to be perfectly comfortable without any prep work.

In other words, kneading isn’t a required behavior for our adult cats and just as we have our own preferences, your cat just might not be a kneader.

Reason 5: It May Be Uncomfortable To Knead

In some cases, it may actually be uncomfortable for cats to knead.

The most common reason?

Declaw surgery. As if there wasn’t already plenty of good reasons to not declaw our cats, we’ve now got another one. Declawing removes a lot more than just the claws and the process actually removes the entire tip of the digit, equivalent to chopping off the last part of our finger. Ouch. Not only is the actual process painful, but it can lead to lifelong arthritis and as a result, some declawed cats may actually find the process of kneading uncomfortable or downright painful.

Other cats may be suffering from arthritis and decide to skip the kneading due to discomfort. While arthritis is most commonly associated with older cats, even young cats with a past injury can suffer from arthritis.

Should I Worry That My Cats Isn’t Kneading?

In the vast majority of cases, there’s nothing to worry about when a cat isn’t kneading. However, if your cat has been declawed or you suspect they may be suffering from arthritis, then it’s worth a conversation with your veterinarian to make sure they’re not experiencing a great deal of pain or discomfort.

Barring that, not kneading isn’t an issue and usually just a preference for some cats. But, if your cat has been kneading for years and suddenly stopped, there may be more to the behavior change and it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian in that scenario as well.

If My Cat Doesn’t Knead, Does That Mean They Don’t Love Me?

Not at all!

Remember, kneading is far from a required behavior for cats! Your cat has several options for showing their happiness and marking their turf and for some felines kneading just isn’t part of their toolkit.

Don’t focus too much kneading and instead look at the overall picture of your cat’s body language. If your feline friend appears, comfortable, loose, and is seeking your attention then you’ve got a happy cat- even if they aren’t kneading!

How To Get Your Cat To Knead

Encouraging your cat to start kneading can be a little tricky. It’s such a specific and distinctly feline behavior that it can be difficult to make it happen in the first place. It’s also going to depend on the reason why your cat isn’t kneading and if it’s not your cat’s style then it’s just not their style!

However, the best method for turning your serious kitty into a biscuit-making fool is just a nice fleece blanket. If you don’t have a blanket at home, you can substitute a jacket or really anything fleece- at least to get your kitty started. If you’re totally fleece-free then you can pick up this budget-friendly fleece blanket in just about any color you want from Amazon.

Then you’ll want to spread the fleece out somewhere soft and start giving your kitty some love! Make sure that the surface below the blanket is soft and comfortable and consider balling up the fleece just a bit to add some thickness to it.

You want to try and mimic the feel of a momma cat: soft, furry and warm! And while there are usually several comfortable and soft things throughout the house, most cats seem to prefer fleece above all else when it comes to kneading.

Check out this little baker of a kitty and his fleece blanket:

Closing Thoughts

There’s really no doubt about it…kneading is cute!

But not all cats are dedicated biscuit makers and while that can be a bit disappointing it’s usually nothing to worry about. Unless your cat is avoiding kneading because they’re too stressed or uncomfortable due to a past injury or declaw surgery. Simply put, some cats just aren’t the biscuit-making kind.

However, it’s also possible that your little biscuit maker just hasn’t found the right dough to work with if you know what I mean!

In that case, a nice fleece blanket, jacket, or any kind of fleece material could fire up the kneading instinct in your otherwise reluctant feline.

I’d love to hear how the fleece trick worked with your reluctant kneader- did you get your cat to start making biscuits?