Why Do Our Cats Purr? It’s Not What You Think!
8 November, 2016
cat purring

What cat lover doesn’t love the sound that comes from our felines when they purr! It’s such a warm, soothing sound and we cat owners usually associate it with pleasure.  After all, it seems as if our cats purr when we rub them or when they see us and hang out with us.  But, purring is not always what we think it is.

How do our cats actually purr?

Cat purring happens on both the inhale and exhale for a constant sound vibration.  Cats that lose their “meow sound” which is the exhale, due to injury are often still able to purr, but cats with laryngeal paralysis lose their purr. It seems as if the internal laryngeal muscles, which control the opening and closing of the space between the vocal chords is what creates the purr sound.

Cats purr to express their feelings

Most cat owners, including me, think of purring as merely an expression of affection.  It is a communication tool as cats and kittens rarely purr when they are alone. Purrs are aimed at other cats or people. The purr has been described as the feline equivalent to a smile or the sound of contentment after we humans eat a meal…yummy!  And we all make sounds for so many different reasons, such as happiness, nerves, fear–and a smile (or a purr) doesn’t necessarily indicate happiness.

Cats purr even when they are frightened to sooth themselves

Cat purring can occur under many different situations, even when our felines are frightened or in pain. Some think that the purr is a sign of submission that signals to the other cats and people that they are feel threatened and want some comfort and love. Purring can happen in happy moments and as a stress reliever.  Some cats even purr when waiting at the veterinarian’s office (not mine- more of a yowl!); it’s their way of telling you to comfort them.  And then when your cat kneads you, of course it’s a love signal.

Kittens instinctively start purring almost at birth

Purring may be one of the only specifically kitten-trait that the adult cats retain. The kitties often knead while they purr. Kittens knead, or tread with the front paws, against their mom’s breasts to prompt her milk to flow as they nurse. Adult cats often retain this behavior, particularly when they purr.  We’ve all seen the purr and knead which is almost like an inhale and exhale of energy.

Don’t worry if your cat doesn’t purr

There are some cats that just don’t purr.   But, that does not mean they are depressed or unhappy. It may simply mean that your cat is incredibly well-adjusted, and feels no need to purr. In a home with many cats, the most confident cat-in-control may purr less because he’s already in charge, while the other kitties purr more in deference to his status.

Cats’ purring is believed to help healing

Some studies have shown that cats can purr their way to better health. This inherent ability is unique to cats because dogs along do not enjoy the same awesome healing capacity.  It’s almost as if they heavy inhale and exhale is calming them down while allowing some ailments or illnesses to heal.

2 thoughts on “Why Do Our Cats Purr? It’s Not What You Think!”

  1. I have a Pixie bob who just turned 8yrs. old last month. Before my husband passed away in 2011 Mickey never slept with us. But almost immediately after his death he was in bed with me and does so every night. He has a routine he follows every night never misses a night. He starts out playing with my hand under the blanket. Once he does that he lays close enough to me and begins kneading into the side of my body and purring for a good 15 to 20 minutes. Once he is done he jumps off the bed and gone for about 20 minutes then back on the bed, rolls up into a ball with his body pressed tight against mine. So if it’s normal for kittens to do this, why at 8 yrs. old, he is still doing it. I am very curious to know the answer to this. Thank you

  2. Hi Patricia,

    My thought would be that your sweet cat sensed your loss and wanted to be near you. After she gets her play and purr fix- she jumps off – releases energy and then comes back to sleep with you. That is really really sweet!

    Cats are creatures of habit and routine. My Stormy will jump on only one chair where I sit- and knead me – purr and then settles into a nap on my lap.

    Only your kitty knows what is going on, but sounds to me like she is in tune to you. What a special cat.

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