Cats scratching and kneading is hardwired into their behavior
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Why Cats Knead & Dogs Don’t?


Ever wonder why cats knead & dogs don’t?

For one, cats are very different from dogs.

Dogs live in packs.

Cats are more solitary, and live by themselves.

While kneading, fondly called making biscuits by many, is definitely a feline trait – you will not see dogs kneading – not all cats knead. It is a way of showing trust and affection towards their owners or favorite toy.

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Cats are hardwired to knead & scratch. Kneading is natural, instinctual, and common cat behavior.

While all cats scratch, not all cats will knead. Even big cats, like lions and tigers, will knead and scratch.

Cats begin kneading as kittens before their eyes are even open, as it stimulates the flow of their mother’s milk. They often will purr when kneading.

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Read more about cats kneading & scratching.

Cats kneading & scratching is a way of communicating, but what are they telling us?

Here is a photo of a cat scratching explaining why cats knead & dogs don't.
Cats scratching and kneading is hardwired into their behavior

What kneading looks like?

Felines alternately push out and pull in their front paws, often interchanging between right and left legs.

Sometimes the paw moves just slightly.

Other times a cat lifts their paws up and down as if parading in place.

Not all cats knead in the same way; some never push out their claws, and some use all four paws.

Kneading is often referred to as making biscuits. The back-and-forth motion of the cat’s front paws resembles the back-and-forth motion we humans use to knead bread.

In adulthood, a cat supposedly will knead when it is feeling happy or content because it associates the motion with the comforts of nursing and its mother.

Cats may bite while kneading you for several reasons:

  • They are overstimulated and have simply had enough
  • Fear
  • Redirected aggression
  • Or not feeling well

For years, it was assumed they were sharpening their claws to remove the dead outer layer of their claws. As a cat claw grows, it sheds the claw’s sheath, like peeling an onion, to reveal a new sharp claw every few weeks.

While their claws do not get much larger with age, they become sharp as the old dead outer layer is peeled away exposing a new fresh, sharp claw.

That is why it is important to clip your cat’s claws on a regular basis, every two to three weeks.

Now it is believed cats knead and scratch as a way communication, letting other felines know where they are.

Kneading determines territory

Other cats will be able to tell another cat has been there by smell. This is particularly helpful for cats that are inside/outside cats and for those that live in the wild.

Felines have scent glands between their toes in their paws and when they make scratching or kneading movements, they leave odor cues other cats can smell. While people can smell when a cat has sprayed, they are unable to detect these pheromones.

It marks territory by leaving both a visual mark and an odor or scent because they have scent glands on their claws. Even the big cats mark territory.

Dogs on the other hand are pack animals, and they have no reason to mark out what’s there’s and what’s not. They share.

While cats co-exist with one another, and sometimes very happily, they are still territorial. They may share a cat tree or sofa, but watch. Frequently, one will be sitting above the other. That is marking vertical territory, and dominance.

The one highest is the most dominant, or Top Cat.

Dogs, on the other hand, have a pack leader that leads the pack. If multiple dogs live in a household, one most likely will be the leader. But this is very different than Top Cat.

Dogs will follow the pack leader. Cats, on the other hand, are more solitary, and are not likely to follow a leader. They are geared to survive if left alone and survive if they must live with other cats.

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4 responses to “Why Cats Knead & Dogs Don’t?”

  1. Maegan Lyness Avatar
    Maegan Lyness

    Dogs do knead, I’m watching my shih tzu do it right now while sitter a foot from his gray Dane big brother. ‍♀️

    1. BJ Bangs Avatar
      BJ Bangs

      Thanks for sharing that info about your dog. I don’t think it is common for dogs to knead, but I will have to check this out.

  2. Tim Avatar

    Cats pretend they’re baking, that’s why. Dogs are gardening.

    1. BJ Bangs Avatar
      BJ Bangs

      Sounds like a good explanation, and we know cats are great at making biscuits.

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