What Does It Mean When Cats Purr

What Does It Mean When Cats Purr

Scientists have wondered what a purring cat means since cats have been domesticated. You’ve probably heard that cats purr when they’re happy or content, but what makes cats purr is more complicated than that. Cats that purr do so for a number of reasons.

So, if you’ve ever wondered, “ why does my cat purr?” we’re here to answer your question and more. 

First, what is purring?

Before we can understand why cats purr, it’s important to understand what purring is, and how it works. Purring is a communication technique first used by kittens after birth (more on that below). 

Purring is a sound and vibration (at a frequency of 25 to 150 Hz) that occurs in the larynx (voice box) and laryngeal muscles in the throat. But first, your cat’s brain sends a signal to the vocal cords that it should begin to purr. 

When this happens, a neural oscillator in the brain continues to send signals to the larynx to produce sound. As your cat inhales and exhales, it carries the vibration of the laryngeal muscles as both a sound and soft vibration throughout the body by dilating and constricting the glottis. The outcome is what you experience: the delightful, soothing sound that is your cat’s purr. 

Why do kittens purr to their mothers? 

When kittens are born, they are born both blind and deaf. This lasts for about two weeks after birth. Purring kittens use these sounds and vibrations to communicate with the mother cat during this time and beyond. A kitten purring will often be met by purrs from the mother, to help the kittens find them. 

The purring kitten helps its mother find them when they can’t see or hear so that they can nurse and stay close for safety. During this time, kittens begin to establish the social behaviors and forms of communication that they will continue using throughout their lives.   

That might be one answer to the common question, “why do cats purr and knead?”

Scientists think the answer could be that mimicking these soothing, social bonding behaviors from kittenhood helps calm and soothe a cat in adulthood. Some cats never outgrow these purring and kneading habits, especially if they left the litter too early, or struggled to feed when they were a kitten.

Why do cats purr when you pet them?

The truth is, cats do purr when they’re content. If they're getting the attention and affection they want, your cat might continue to purr with contentment while you pet them. If your cat keeps purring while being pet, they might just be expressing their contentment.

However, there are a number of reasons your cat might purr when you pet them. These reasons can indicate other emotions and needs beyond contentment. Keep reading to learn more answers to the question, “why does my cat purr?”

Other reasons cats purr

We’ve learned a lot in recent years about other reasons that cats purr. Yes, cats do purr when they are content or satisfied. While this is probably the most common reason cats purr, others include the following:

1. To communicate with other cats. Some cats purr when meeting other cats for the first time. Not all cats do this, and scientists aren’t quite sure what they’re communicating when they do. It could be that your cat is telling other cats, “I am friendly and calm.”

2. To express anxiety. If your cat purrs when visiting the vet, or when hiding from new people or other cats, it could be that they are trying to self-soothe. While purring can express calmness and contentment, it can also indicate nervousness.

3. To aid in the healing process. Evidence suggests that the low frequency vibrations of a purr can help heal injuries, including bone and tendon injuries. Animal experts also think it aids in bone growth for kittens. Purring may also reduce swelling and inflammation, which might be a reason why cats have fewer complications after surgery than dogs and can withstand falls from much higher heights.  

4. To self-soothe during birth and other painful events. You might notice your cat purring while giving birth. Scientists believe this is not only a self-soothing behavior but could aid in the healing process after giving birth, for the reasons mentioned in the previous point.

5. To communicate with you. Cats also purr as a way to communicate with you. They might be trying to tell you about a need that they want you to fulfill, like hunger, thirst, more attention,  or continued affection.

Understand your cat’s normal purr to better understand them. Pay close attention to when your cat purrs, and whether you notice different types of purring.

Why does my cat purr so loud?

Because cats have different reasons for purring, your purring kitty might be trying to deliver different messages with changes in pitch and volume. Sometimes, very loud purring combined with other behaviors, like crying, head butting, or kneading, might indicate a need. 

If your cat is purring very loudly around meal time and exhibiting some of these other behaviors, they might be asking to be fed. If they’ve already eaten, they might just be asking for your attention.

Understanding when and why cats purr is important for determining what their purrs might mean. If you think your cat could be sick or in pain, and he or she is purring very loudly, you may want to call your veterinarian. This is especially true if your cat is panting, baring its teeth, drooling, or showing signs of injury. 

However, cats purring loudly can be entirely normal and healthy. If this loud purring is typical for your cat, it could just be due to their size, personality, and kittenhood experiences, or their anatomy. This is why getting to know your cat’s purr and personality are so important. 

Keep your cat purring contently when you can't be there

Our professional pet sitters know how to understand your cat’s social and verbal cues. When you’re away, you can trust us to give your cats and other pets all the attention they need. Keep your pets safe and happy when you go out of town this year, and schedule pet sitting with us.