Why Do Cats Purr?


There is nothing more precious than the sound of a cat purring to their heart’s content. But while purring is one of the most common noises that a cat can make, it can be much harder to tell what it means.

Meowing, chirping, chattering, hissing, and growling are all equally common vocalizations your cat may make, and we know plenty about what each one means. But purring is a little enigmatic, as purring can mean multiple things at any given time.

cat sitting in front of pet door

What Does Purring Mean?

While growling and hissing can basically mean the same thing, purring is more complex. Purring can have many different meanings depending on the context and what your cat is feeling. It’s easier to view purring less as a specific word, but as means of communicating a specific need.

Purring is a soothing action meant to relax and heal not only your cat but any fellow cats near them. And to them, you are also one big clumsy cat. But your cat may feel the need to soothe when they are stressed out.

So how do you know whether your cat is purring because they are happy or irritated?

How To Tell Your Cat is Purring Because They Are Happy

One of the best ways to tell if your cat is purring because they are happy is by their body language. They should look relax and content. They can be on their back, their tail is mostly still, or their eyes can be half-closed.

When cats are purring like this, they feel safe and happy. Their purring is their way of smiling and showing love.

How to Tell Your Cat is Purring Because They Are Unhappy

Again, take a look at your cat’s body language and the context they are in. If your cat has been recently hurt or is under some kind of stress, they may purr to themselves in order to self-soothe. This means that if your cat is refusing to cuddle or running away from you when they are purring, then they are under some kind of stress and want to be left alone.

They can also purr when their packmates are under duress, which is why your cat may come up to snuggle with you when you are distressed.

Amazingly, some studies have suggested that purring can help a cat heal. The low frequency of their purrs vibrates within their bodies can heal bones and wounds, ease breathing, lessen pain and swelling, and repair muscles and tendons. It’s similar to the way we massage or cradle our own wounds when we are hurt.

Other Causes of Purring

While self-soothing and affection are two of the biggest reasons cat purrs, there are a few other meanings that a good purr can have.

Purring can be used to establish a mother-kitten connection. Kittens are known to purr when they are only a few days old, possibly to let their mothers know that they are well. In turn, Mama cats will purr with their kittens to bond with them. It’s comparable to how we sing lullabies to our babies.

Cats can also purr when they want something, often food. Granted, the purr sounds much different than what we’re used to purring sounding like. Their normal purr is combined with an unpleasant cry to gain our attention. Luckily, because this purr sounds so much like a baby yelling, it’s fairly easy to tell what this one means.

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