Why Do Cats Purr?

Ginger cat in nature

While not everyone loves cats, anyone who had the opportunity to spend time around a cat while she was purring right next to him, is bound to love them.

These animals are so majestic and graceful, there is almost like a peaceful aura around them and they can somehow manage to make us feel wonderful and completely at peace when we pet them gently after a rough day.

This is especially true when they make that calming purring sound and it generally means they are enjoying our company as well, and feel at peace.

It’s something about the way they look and sound like just eases your mind.

It’s just relaxing.

But, if you don’t own a cat, or even if you own one, you may not know that the reason behind their purr isn’t always a good sign.

It can mean a lot of things. While you can’t always know the exact reason for it, you can easily assume what’s going on.

The cat’s ability to purr is indeed an interesting one. It’s unlike any other animal out there.

An interesting fact, there are two types of cats out there. And not all of them purr. There are ones that purr, and ones that roar.

To give you a bit of context, none of the Pantherinae subfamily of cats have the ability to purr. The Pantherinae subfamily of cats consists of:

  • Lions
  • Leopards
  • Tigers
  • Jaguars

But they do indeed roar.

But the family of cats that do purr consist of our domestic common family of cats, as well as big cats that can’t roar (but they can purr). The big cats that can purr are(1.):

  • Bobcats
  • Cheetahs
  • Lynxes
  • Pumas
  • Wildcats

While this isn’t the family of cats you’re interested in, I thought you may want to know. It’s interesting and fascinating really.

The ones we care about most is our furry stay-home friends.

And one of the biggest reasons why is because it feels as if they share their contentment and enjoyment with us when they’re happy.

Our fascination with cats is really not measurable.

Read about all the different types of cats here.

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How do cats purr?

Well, the most common solution for the question “What makes cats purr?” is that the cat’s brain sends signals to its laryngeal muscles in its voice box so it can vibrate(2.).

These muscles act like a valve during this process, opening and closing the glottis, which is a space between vocal cords.

That allows air to flow past its the cat’s voice box.

One of the reasons people are sure this is what purring works like is because cats with laryngeal paralysis can’t purr.

What makes purring so distinctive is that it works while the cat is inhaling, as well as exhaling.

This is why it seems as if cats can purr forever.

While scientists can not agree on a direct way cats initiate purring, Some believe that it is a voluntary act, initiated by their nervous system.

This would mean that cats only purr when they want to. That sounds a lot like cats.

Others suggest that the purr signal comes from a neural oscillator in the cat’s brain.

And another theory is that purring is caused by the release of endorphins, when the cats experience either pleasure or pain.

Cats don’t always purr when they’re happy. It’s true that the purr most commonly appears while petting them, or during feeding.

Kittens also purr while their mother is feeding them, because they can’t meow and purr at the same time.

And that’s the only way they can communicate with their mother. It’s called bonding in cats.

Now let’s get onto the things that make cats start purring. And what they’re telling you when doing so.

If you want to really learn how to understand your cat, look into cat body language explained.

Reasons for cats purring

While you won’t always know the exact reasoning behind the purring, some known things may help you out.

In some cases, the reasoning is clear, in some you won’t have an idea what is the occasion.

And we’re here to help you figure it out, when you have no idea what the cat is telling you.

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Why do cats purr?

It’s happy

One of the most popular and the most common reasons behind a cat’s purr, is of course because she’s happy.

If your cat looks relaxed, maybe on her back or in a weird position that doesn’t look comfortable but is for her, if her eyes are almost closed, and her tail is mostly still.

In that situation, it is safe to say that your cat is happy. While it can not smile, it’s smiling in it’s own way.

And she’s making you smile too.

It’s hungry, or wants something

It’s not uncommon to hear a cat purr when it’s the time of the day when she usually gets a meal.

A British study suggests that there is a distinctive difference between the sound cats make when they are hungry, and when they want something else, other than food.

The purr is different.

When cats purr out of hunger, they combine the purring sound with an unusual cry or meow.

It resembles the way a baby cries for food.

The experts that have done this research believe that most people are more likely to respond to this sound.

And a fun fact behind this is that even people that don’t own cats can see the resemblance between the sounds a cat makes when she’s hungry and when she’s not.

Kitten communicating to its mother, and vice versa

It’s normal to see or hear a kitten purring even when it’s a few days old. It’s perceived as a way to let their momma know that they’re okay.

Kittens also use the purr as a way to bond with their mother. And their mothers will commonly purr to them as if they were singing a lullaby.

As I mentioned previously, kittens will purr while their mom is feeding them, to let her know that they like the milk, and thank her.

While they can’t meow while being fed, the only way they can communicate is by purring.

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Healing and relaxing

Cats commonly purr while they’re in pain, even though it drains the energy out of them. So, it must be worth it.

Just like a baby sucks its thumb to soothe itself, that’s probably the case with purring too. It feels soothing and relaxing to do this.

Research has told us that purring may affect the recovery time(3.) of a cat.

While it purrs, the low frequency of the purrs causes a vibration in their body. That can result in:

  • Build muscle, and repair it
  • Ease breathing
  • Lessen pain
  • Lessen swelling
  • Heal bones and wounds.

This would perhaps explain why they can survive falling from high places, and have fewer complications after surgeries than dogs.

That should explain everything. While there is still a lot of stuff about cats we have not found out, I hope we will soon.

The main reason why cats purr is to show they are happy and relaxed, to show they are hungry, a way for kittens to talk to their mother, and just out of instinct.

I hope that this has helped you learn more about cat behavior, and teach you what your cat is telling you in certain situations.

Remember to always treat your furry buddies well and take great care of them.

Now that we have answered the question of “why do cats purr”, and explained a cats purring sound more in detail, you may also enjoy reading our article about why cats love boxes so much.


Author: Cathour

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