Why Do Cats Knead and Bite Blankets & What to Do About it

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  • Cats kneading and biting blankets and other soft materials is so common that there are many memes based on the behavior. While we all laugh at our cats’ quirks, one can’t help but wonder why cats knead and bit blankets that way. Is it really safe for them to bite blankets?

    The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) confirms that kneading is normal feline behavior, but as with anything normal is relative. What is normal for one cat, or even most cats, may not be normal behavior for another. When your cat has never had a kneading habit or has never bitten blankets while kneading them before, there might be another cause.

    Most kneading is harmless, and doesn’t require attention. But if you are concerned about your cat, this advice from our Certified Cat-World.com behaviorist should put your mind at ease or help you take the next steps.

    Cats kneading and biting

    Why Do Cats Knead And Bite Blankets?

    How often have you wished you could ask your cat why they have their quirky habits? You may never know why your cat kneads and bites blankets, especially if they have always done so.

    Janet Cutler, Ph.D., one of our Certified Cat Behaviorists at Cat-World.com says that there could be many reasons, but ultimately we don’t know why cats knead, “but there are several theories.”

    Kneading blankets starts as a nursing technique

    The most commonly accepted reason for cats to knead blankets and other soft things is that it starts as a nursing technique that is continued into adulthood as a self-soothing habit. “When kittens nurse, they begin to knead to help with milk production,” Dr. Cutler told Cat-World.com.

    Being against their mother while feeding creates a sense of security that kneading soft things brings back to them later in their lives. This is considered especially likely in cats that also suck on the blankets which they knead. We see similar self-soothing habits throughout nature, even in human babies “needing” binkies.

    Kneading to show comfort or pleasure

    If your cat usually purrs when they are kneading their favorite blanket, pillow, or lap, they are probably trying to show you how pleased they are with your attention. This is some of the most arduous praise you can get from your cat. They may also do so to invoke a sense of relaxation and security.

    Wild cat instincts could influence cat kneading habits

    Cats weren’t always domesticated creatures, and like other domesticated animals, certain traits and habits might be passed down through the generations. Cats in the wild knead the ground around them to pat down grass and leaves, creating a softer bed for sleep or giving birth. If your cat kneads an area before settling down for a nap, this might be why.

    Wild cats also mark their territory in different ways, and one of them is by releasing pheromones from between their claws as they knead. Cat behaviorist Dr. Cutler chimes in:

    “Cats have scent glands between their toes called interdigital glands, and they could be kneading to mark their territory. When cats knead they usually move the muscles in their feet and extend their claws, which releases the pheromones in those glands and would signal to other cats about them.”

    Your cat might feel the need to mark their territory in this way if there are other cats in the home. They might also do so simply because they have a favorite place to be and they want it to smell like them.

    Why did my cat suddenly start kneading soft items?

    Any change in behavior could be a sign that your cat is experiencing some kind of distress, but often these behavioral changes resolve on their own as the situation rectifies itself. On the other hand, sudden development of obsessive kneading and biting behaviors could be an indication of an anxiety disorder that needs more attention. (Learn more about displacement behaviors here.)

    Since your cat can’t tell you why they are suddenly kneading blankets or other soft items, you should look for potential reasons for the behavior. You may need to take minor action to identify and rectify the problem. Here are some questions to ask yourself when trying to figure out why your cat is suddenly kneading.

    • Has your cat’s environment changed? Changes in laundry products used on soft blankets, pillows, and other fabrics alters the smell of those items. Cats might be abnormally attracted to the smell and try to knead and suck on freshly laundered items (a condition called Pica). Alternatively, the smell might be offending them.
    • Have you brought a new cat into the home? If you have a new kitten or even just a visiting cat, your cat may mark their territory in a number of ways so that the other animal knows to leave those blankets or soft places alone. At least the pheromones released are not detectable by any other creature than other cats, so you don’t have the odors that come from spraying for territory.
    • Is your cat bored? Have you been neglecting to play with them as often lately? Have you spent too much time away from home? Your cat might be protesting by kneading soft items.

    cat biting and kneading blankets

    Should I be worried about my cat biting and kneading blankets?

    Biting and kneading blankets is generally safe, and if your cat has always done it there probably isn’t anything to worry about. On the other hand, Dr. Cutler warns that “If this has started all of the sudden…you should get your cat in for a vet visit. Any sudden changes in behavior can be a sign that your cat isn’t feeling well.”

    If your cat has always been a kneader but now also bites the blankets, they could be having some dental pain. Kneading may also be a stress response to pain or discomfort in general as a soothing technique. If your cat kneads to the exclusion of other activities, take them to the vet to be sure.

    That said, there are a few reasons that this typical cat behavior might have some risks.

    Allergic reactions

    Just like humans, cats can be allergic to almost anything. Allergies occur when a living creature encounters something in their environment that, although otherwise harmless, their immune system considers a dangerous intruder.

    Allergies in cats are not common. Environmental allergies, such as allergy symptoms triggered by biting on blankets and other freshly laundered items, are very rare. According to research from Banfield Animal Hospital, less than 1% of cats have environmental allergies.

    Among allergies reported by cat owners, allergy to wool seems to be the most common. However, this could simply be because cats like to knead wool like yarn and blankets, and so it is more common for them to come into contact with.

    If your cat has their own kneading habit, look for these signs of allergies:

    • Sneezing
    • Itchy eyes, ears, skin, or tail
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Swollen paws

    Other hazards to your cat depending on what they kneed

    Sometimes loosely woven or crocheted blankets can come unthreaded with the kneading and biting, and threads can get caught in their claws or teeth. If their kneading is causing no other difficulty, Dr. Cutler suggests keeping their claws trimmed. This can also, “prevent rips, tears, or scratches” on your belongings.

    If you’re worried about loose threads and fibers, and your cat has a favorite place to relax, consider getting a cat-friendly soft item to place there for them instead.

    Should I stop my cat from kneading and biting things?

    Kneading and biting on blankets, pillows, and other soft items is generally harmless, but if your cat is overzealous in this behavior you might need to take action to protect your belongings. If you have moved into a home with plush carpets and your cat just can’t seem to stop kneading them, stopping the behavior could be necessary to avoid damages.

    There may be other reasons that your cat’s kneading behavior is troublesome for you. Rest assured that your cat can be trained to stop the kneading habit.

    How to stop your cat from biting and kneading?

    Stopping kneading behavior may be more difficult than removing the opportunities to do so. If your cat is kneading a particular item, try simply replacing that item with something more appropriate. If your cat is kneading on your lap or belly, giving them something alternative like a blanket of cat-friendly material could be the easiest solution.

    You should never punish your cat for kneading, but you might need to deter the behavior. When all else fails, try negative scent association to deter the kneading. If they don’t like the scent they will not want to knead there for comfort or sleep.

    stop your cat from biting and kneading

    FAQ – Frequently asked questions about cats kneading blankets

    Here are a few more frequently asked questions from cat owners about cats kneading blankets.

    Why do cats knead on you?

    Cats knead on you for many of the same reasons that they knead on blankets. They are likely trying to tell you that they feel safe and happy, or they might just be trying to get comfortable. If you come home smelling like another cat, they might knead on you to release those same pheromones onto your body and clothes so that the next time you see that cat they will know that you are taken.

    Can a cat be allergic to material?

    Just like humans, cats can be allergic to almost anything. That said, there are some materials that cats are more likely to be allergic to. These usually include items made from wool or nylon, as well as other synthetic, plastic, or rubber based materials. If you suspect your cat is allergic to a certain material, the best response is to simply remove the item from your home.

    Why do cats like wool? Is it safe?

    For the vast majority of cats, wool is completely safe, and many cats do suck on wool of varying types. One theory about this is that they are attracted to the lanolin in the wool. As long as your cat is not displaying any signs of allergic reaction, it is probably safe for them to bite the wool as long as lose threads do not get caught in teeth or claws.

    Why do cats knead before lying down?

    Your cat might knead things other than blankets and pillows. Does your cat knead every time they settle in to lie down? If so, it could be a left over instinct from their wild cat ancestors. They are probably just trying to soften up the bed for them so that they can sleep for a good long while.


    • Nicky Thomas

      Nicky Thomas is an author and freelance writer specializing in writing features, general interest, and thought leadership articles. She also has a passion for interviewing people of all walks of life with an important message for the masses. Read more of Nicky’s work at thewordsmithkc.com.

    • Janet Cutler, PhD, Cat Behaviorist

      Janet Higginson Cutler, PhD, CAAB, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. She earned her Phd at the University of Guelph, and runs her own cat and dog behavior consulting firm, Landmark Behaviour, in Canada.