I’ve written about why cats knead things and people with their claws before.
While I feel that article does a pretty good job giving an overarching explanation for why cats typically knead into human tummies (and other body parts!), I also feel it lacks any real explanation on the topic of why certain people will sometimes be kneaded, while others in the family, living under the same roof, or even good friends who a cat really likes may not be kneaded at all.
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As I mentioned in my original article about kneading, there don’t seem to be any concrete, scientifically backed end-all-be-all explanations for why cats knead.
The majority of what we have to explain away kneading are theories rather than proven facts. When it comes to kneading choices cats make in terms of which human to select to make muffins atop of, the jury’s absolutely still out.
The theories I’ve managed to find are pulled from discussion boards on various forums where pet owners were discussing their thoughts on why they were being chosen over others in their cats’ lives.
As a result, some – or really all of these – may be completely accurate or completely false.
We just won’t know which theories are right until scientists become curious enough about the subject to study it.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t make predictions of our own!
Be sure to leave your own theories in the comments below, and do tell me what you think of any of the following theories.
Do some ring true? Seem unlikely? Which seem strongest to you? Would love to hear your thoughts.
Picture from post This One
7 Theories That May Explain Why Cats Prefer to Knead Some & Not Others
1. Cats prefer to knead people they are more bonded to.
Kneading is a feline behaviour related to feelings comfort, happiness, security, calmness and other positive emotions.
If a cat is kneading on a particular person, typically it’s because he or she is bonded more closely to that individual than others in the household that he or she doesn’t choose to knead on.
2. Cats prefer to knead people who feed, play, groom and clean their litter box for them.
A lot of the reason cats bond more to one individual over others is because the acts of feeding, playing, grooming, and cleaning after a cat all for the most part make a cat feel more connected to that individual.
If one person in the household does all the feeding, playing, grooming, and litter cleaning, typically it seems that’s also the person a cat will choose to knead on – if only one person is selected.
3. Some cats may knead only a single person – one they think of as their mother.
If it’s your role to do all the care taking for the cats in the household and you’re the one being kneaded on, it stands to reason that it may be because your cat thinks of you as an equivalent to his or her mother.
Kittens knead their mothers with their paws to get milk when they are young, and so through their behaviour, they may be essentially stating with their that they think of you as a mother.
4. Cats prefer to knead people who sit still for them.
Some cats dislike kneading on people who move or squirm under their paws – and since kneading can be a little uncomfortable for the human being used as dough – it makes sense that movement would be a huge possibility on the part of the human.
If you’re trying to figure out why a cat doesn’t knead a specific person in the household whom he or she likes, it could be simply down to the fact that the cat feels that person will not hold still when they try to knead, or that person does not typically sit still enough in the first place for the cat to feel comfortable hopping onto them and beginning the process of kneading.
5. Since cats often knead before napping, they may knead people they want to nap on.
There’s a huge connection between kneading behaviour and cat napping. A lot of cats will knead almost exclusively before they take a snooze.
I know my cat, Avery, is like this (even though he kneads on blankets rather than people – unless of course there are people underneath that blanket, in which case we’re game).
One theory of why cats knead in the first place postulates cats may knead because – in the wild – if they knead on a spot right before napping on it (like in grass), it would make that spot more comfortable.
Since there’s such a huge connection between kneading and napping, it may be that the reason a cat chooses to knead on a particular person is because that cat wants to take a nap on them – so out of habit of kneading before napping, he or she kneads the spot before napping in it.
6. Cats prefer to knead certain materials (like fluffy wool). A cat may prefer to knead a specific person because of what they wear.
If you’re always wearing wool sweaters, fluffy shirts, or cuddly fleeces, it may be your cat chooses to knead on you because of your choice in clothing.
One way I can think of to tell if this is possibly the case? See if the only time your cat seems to be kneading is when you’re wearing something particularly cozy for your cat to dig his or her claws into.
7. Some cats may knead only their favourite people.
Even if cats like a number of people, they may select only one or two, or a small number of people they really favour over others, to knead on.
Favouritism definitely does seem to have something to do with cat kneading, though not everything, as you should be able to tell by a number of the other possible theories that might help explain why cats choose some people over others to knead on.
Things That Don’t Seem to Explain Cat Kneading Preference
1. The human’s gender.
While it does seem that cats will more often than not knead on a female in the household if he or she does not knead everyone, many cats knead both men and women in a household.
The gender bias seems more likely to be caused by the fact that women in the household will typically do the feeding, playing, grooming, and cleaning after cats, and that then creates a stronger bond with the cat which can lead to an increased chance of being chosen to be kneaded on.
2. Liking a person.
Cats don’t always choose to knead on absolutely everyone they like and love spending time with.
A cat, for example, may choose to nap and cuddle and spend a lot of time with a human being in the household they’ve never kneaded on before.
Just because the cat doesn’t prefer to knead on this person, doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t like or love him or her, just means there’s probably another explanation for the preference to not knead on them, or to only knead someone else.
2. Overall level of sociability.
Even cats who are incredibly sociable will still sometimes be incredibly particular and not want to knead everyone they love interacting with.
Some cats can be very choosy about who they’ll knead, and not at all choosy about who they spend time hanging out and having fun with.
Again, keep in mind that cats don’t always choose to knead on every person they genuinely like. They may choose to show their affection to different people in different ways.
Your Experiences with Cats Kneading Humans?
What are your experiences with cats kneading humans?
Have any of your cats ever kneaded a human in your household? Has your cat ever kneaded you?
If your cat doesn’t knead you or anyone in your household – does he or she knead at all? If your cat kneads humans, how often?
And do some people in your household get kneaded more frequently than others? Is anyone in the household excluded from being kneaded altogether?
Would love to hear your theories about cats kneading selectively in the comments down below!
Another theory I’ve ran into idk if anyone’s mentioned this or not but I think some cats do it to get your attention. We will be watching tv or a movie and blossom will come up to us and knead kind of like hey wait a minute what about me?
Taj Johnson says
Hi, My name is Taj and my feline beauty is named-Sky. Sky is all female. She came to me an 8 week old kitten, on September 24, 2017. She is now 4 years and 2 months old. I love my Sky Sky! From the moment I got her she started with the “kneading.” It was constant! She would jump into my lap and knead. Climb in between my shoulder and chin, and “knead me,” then fall asleep. It was adorable to witness. Now, 4 years later, she still does it (not as much,) yet, she still kneads me…and then settles into sleep. Anyone who has had or having this experience knows it is such an honor and a comforting calmness to share with our fur babies. Your cat is letting you know-I really love you. I’m comfortable with you. I trust you! That right there…”the trust,”-is everything you can ask for-from a cat. Cats who are THE MOST SELECTIVE and SKEPTICAL animals alive! Who protect themselves and their hearts-at all cost! They make you earn their love…and it is so worth it. As I type this, my Sky is napping on my lap after a GOOD KNEAD! Kneading…who could ask for anything more…❤️😽😻😺
Interesting article 🙂 My cat kneads everyone in the household. But most of the time he kneads me. Even though I am not his primary food or snack source, not his entertainment source and I am not the poor person cleaning his litter box around 6 a.m.
I guess he kneads me because I sit still, let him knead me and nap on me. His purring is so relaxing that I end up sleeping too.
A young female stray I just met while on a run today started trying to climb onto my lap as I knelt down to pet her. She was very sweet natured and was easy to approach. Is it normal for a stray to feel comfortable so quickly? I’m quite good with cat manners, and have experience with many cats although I’ve never had one of my own.
My two year old cat kneads my husband and daughter. My first cat did that to me for two or three years. I don’t miss it all. My problem is he is attached to my husband even after I feed and play with him. My husband locks him out at night and I actually feel badly for him
Why my cat kneads me, bites me and then is having an erection?? He is just 5 months old. I am new to this. Please reply.
Elise Xavier says
I don’t know! I would assume maybe he was cleaning down there right before he started kneading on you? Maybe kneading and biting is part of his cleaning ritual?
But I really don’t know! See if you can ask your vet for his or her thoughts.
Mine does this too! 10yo male though. He kneads me nightly right after I get in bed, but only bites me and gets an erection when my fiance is away. I have no idea why, but I wish I did!
We have an old guy who has reached the twilight of his years. probably looking at months. He is not a real cuddler but absolutely is enamoured with my wite’s homemade quilts and her. He will knead her at every opportunity, and will, when possible, knead her whilst she is asleep. He has nothing to do with me although I’m the primary food source, litter box cleaner etc. Fickle – just like all cats. We named him Pest and it is a self-fulfilling prophecy
Raquel Amber Santiago says
I had a new housemate my kittens would run from, took them time to adapt, i had her start giving them treats and just letting them smell her slowly that are getting there, for mine its trust issues and they always run to me but once she started giving them treats, spending quality time with them not quantity it changed real fast, they now let her rub their bellies, she also uses the red laser to get their attention and chase the dot on the floor. Time smells anything but give it time. It could be the prior owner was female and she has trust issues. Build the bond up Sending hugs
Cheryl Spencer says
Our kitty Maximus only kneads on my husband. He does it to his bare chest when we’re in bed. He does it several times a night and also sleeps right next to him. I feel left out because every cat I’ve owned, always kneaded me. 😭 We both feed him. I don’t get it. He was a stray. He’s 1 year old and a sickly kitty. Always at the vet for something. He’s indoor only since we got him. He follows us like a dog and has to know everything we’re doing. Very affectionate too! He just doesn’t like to be held and prefers my husband over everyone. I’m glad he feels safe with my husband, but I feel left out🤭
Raquel Santiago says
I have four rescue cats and two elderly cats. All would have been put down by the SPCA due to medical condtions. The four kittens i rescued were thrown out of a car and once i got them back to health i couldnt get rid of them because we bonded. When i first got them into my home it was TOUCH AND GO. LITERALLY until i fed them and spent time with them (the kittens) after the first month i became KNEED CITY. And 8 months later its the same. They got to sit on my lap they knead first, the want to sleep next to me they always knead first then plop it down and then knead me. Lil Rocket is the worst one for this. He kneeds one spot next to me, licks my face, jumps to the other spot kneads that spot, licks my face jumps to the other side, kneads me and he is out like a light purring away. The others are variable, they knead me when they want attention or cuddles, every one has their own individual personality, 3 of them purr a lot when kneading one does not purr at all but loves to nuzzle. I have learned to respect their personalities and not force my ideas on them of how they should be catting cause they are each unique. That said i have one very soft wool blanket that i dont care where i put it, its gets needed and they love it. SO each theory holds merit depending on the personality of the feline
I have a kitten who is going on 4 months old and kneads on my neck constantly, he does it every time he wants to cuddle (during the night and during the day). He also seems very happy and content and nuzzles his little face in my neck as well. I do notice that I’m the only person that he loves on and that’s usually his way of showing it. He also follows me a lot of the time and it’s the sweetest thing. I definitely do think I’m the person he’s most bonded with because I love on him a lot as well as play with him and feed him.
Randy Baker says
We have a cat that was a wild stray feral kitten he was about 4 weeks old when we found him behind our smoker on the back patio during a heavy rain storm he was bleeding some we think he may have been picked up by one of the many Hawks in the area and dropped. for the first few weeks we had to keep him in the garage as Family members are extremely allergic, he would hide when ever we cam into the garage to feed him or clean the litterbox he used without any training. As time went on he would finally let us pet him then he would let us hold him he is now almost ten months old in great health he is an out door cat we have had him fixed so he is not contributing to the wild population if I put my finger by him while he is laying down on one of the couches on the patio he will start to kneed my finger with his front paws he kneads while in our laps but this is the first cat I have had that will pull my hnd with his paws and then start to knead.
I have one kat, who, like most , has the run of my apartment. When I go to bed he will come into the bedroom and knead my stomach left side only and his arse pointed into my armpit ???, he tries to scrunch up to fit into a space, he does this for approx 5 mins then goes to the end of the bed to sleep, stretched out and uninterupted by me sleeping patterns- he is now nearly 11 and this has only started doing this over the last 2 years – he is my first kat, so he has been overindulged / spoilt etc – and I have probably made every newbie owners mistake – but we get on well and I love the [not so] little bugger
Does kneading make the spot warm? If yes, maybe they do it to make a warm spot. Also, If you have a naturally higher body temperature in your household compared to someone else, do they tend to knead you over the other person? It’s just a thought. I am no expert…far from.I don’t have any cats at the moment but would love one.
Elise Xavier says
I think you might be on to something here! I definitely think heat could be a variable. Sounds plausible to me.
Beth Moore says
My newest cat, a young female, kneads me, but not my husband. She loves my fleece pajamas, but also kneads me when I wear other clothes. My husband thinks she smells my pheromones and associates me with her mother.
My Zara will mostly knead me (chest/neck area) at night before she goes to sleep at the foot of my bed. She is going on 10 months but I’ve only had her since she was a little over 6 months and she has done this to me since the 1st week I got her. She was sick when I first got her, which meant I had to care for her just a bit more. Although she doesn’t do it often like she used to, she also kneads me when we are on the couch before she naps. When she was smaller she would nap at my neck but she has grown since then and settles for the couch/foot of the bed after kneading.
Side Note: She rarely kneads my mother but even then that’s only when I’m not around.
I have three cats, Morris, Josie, and Theo. While all of them love to cuddle, only Morris and Theo knead. Josie and Theo are twins. There are only 3 people in my house. Morris and Theo will attempt to knead any squishy part of my body, blanket or not, but they love the blankie too. Morris and Theo knead my dad in the house and they attempt to knead my mom as well but she doesn’t like it. I suspect this is because we all equally spend a lot of time evenly with them. My mom stays up late so she keeps the cats company at night and sits with them and makes them boxes and fills their bowls. My dad plays with them a lot, cuddles, and fills bowls in the morning, I fill the bowls throughout the day, change the litter, cuddle, take naps in my room with them, and play some. They do not let the cats in their room at night.
Elise Xavier says
I love how Josie and Theo are the twins, but only Theo kneads. So crazy how different personalities can be, even amongst twins! Thanks for sharing 🙂
sharon crossland says
An interesting article. Our eldest cat Sox comes to sit with me in the autumn/winter mornings and kneads me for quite some time but when she first comes in and if my partner is up and about, she head-buts him something crazy. Even if I get in front of him, she peers over my shoulder to get at him!
Elise Xavier says
Oh my word that head butting must be a sight to watch, haha. So strange how they prefer to do different things to different people; quirky little fellas!
Hey Sharon, my car head butts me too! I think it’s so cool! She does it when I pucker my lips and she goes straight in for the forehead kiss. Even if I’m just sitting on the couch or lying in the bed, she’ll come and ram her head into my lips for a kiss. She also does this when she wants to be petted. She acts a LOT like a dog! Plays fetch and everything!
Elise Xavier says
Mary Bragg says
Pretzel, my kitty, likes to crawl up on my chest and then knead my chest whether there it cloth on it or not. She and Otis, my sister’s cat and the old man at 17, will knead anything I’ve knitted, especially after I’ve just knitted it and haven’t washed it yet. It can be acrylic or wool based yarn…doesn’t matter to them. They will also get the clean on on a bed and form it into a nest. Otis will knead my sister, his person. Both are usually purring at the same time.
Elise Xavier says
Melted reading this, these cats sound so amazing 🙂 Both such little kneaders! Love the thought of Otis kneading a little nest for himself, way too cute! And love how each cat has their person who they knead. ❤️
Barbara Radisavljevic says
Most cats we’ve allowed into our home and took care of have kneaded both my husband and me. My Mom’s cat used to knead me when she was out of town and I was taking care of her.
Elise Xavier says
Too sweet 🙂
Avery’s just today started trying to knead me, but it’s only because I was lying down wearing a wool sweater and looked like a blanket 😉