It may be a surprise to you, but “why do cats purr?” is one of the most searched-for questions on the internet. We often wonder why our pets, especially cats, do certain things. Well, cats purr for an amazing variety of reasons: it can be a sign of happiness, pain, distress, needing rest, needing repair, and of hunger (when combined with meowing).
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Purring is firstly understood as a sign of contentment. The most obvious sign that a cat is happy is that it is doing this action. According to Purina, “Humans smile, dogs wag their tails and cats purr. All of us show our contentment in different ways. So it’s not surprising that when your cat is curled up beside you, or you are stroking them, they express their feelings by purring” (Righetti, Joanne). And interestingly, cats do not have an apparatus for this act. Purring is done by a rapid movement of the muscles in the voice box with the movement of the diaphragm as a combined process (Righetti, Joanne).
In addition, purring can be a sign that a cat is in pain. If the cat has changed its breathing, it is biting and scratching itself, its pulse changes, its eye changes, energy level is down, or it cannot move well, the cat may start purring as a healing mechanism. If a cat regularly purrs, it may increase its purring in light of its pain (Nicholas, Jason).
There is also a term called “inappropriate purring.” It is a form of relaxation for a cat when he or she is in distress. This is often seen when a cat is pregnant or giving birth to kittens. The mother cat will start purring to calm itself down and to ease herself through stressful circumstances. It may be akin to our act of humming, whistling, or other behaviors when we cannot seem to relax (Lindsay, Duncan).
Interestingly, when a cat purrs it can also be a sign of it needing rest. The feline might be tired (even though we know cats sleep so much already) and will start purring to get itself to go to sleep or to calm down. Therefore, purring can be a mechanism for cats to put themselves to sleep when tired (Righetti, Joanne).
The purring of cats has been shown to be not only healthy for humans to listen to as a relaxation tool, but also cats employ their purring as self-healing mechanisms. According to Scientific American, “Although it is tempting to state that cats purr because they are happy, it is more plausible that cat purring is a means of communication and a potential source of self-healing” (Lyons A., Leslie). In fact, the purr of a cat decreases the symptoms of dyspnea, helps heal infections and swelling, heals bones, and heals muscles, tendones, and ligaments (“The Healing Power of the Cat Purr”). There are even more benefits associated with humans when hearing the purring of cats, such as the lowering of blood pressure.
Lastly, cats can purr because of hunger. But this type of purring is special. As WebMD explains, “When cats purr for food, they combine their normal purr with an unpleasant cry or mew, a bit like a human baby’s cry. Experts believe that we’re more likely to respond to this sound. They’ve found that people can tell the difference between the purrs, even if they aren’t cat owners” (“How Can I Tell If My Cat Is Purring Because It’s Hungry or Wants Something?”). This is probably an evolutionary trait and a learned response.
Finally, we know the secret behind a cat’s purr. They do it out of happiness, pain, distress, wanting rest, needing repair, and hunger (with the help of a combined meow). So, the next time you hear your cat purr, you can remember these reasons and determine the state of your cat.
Righetti, Joanne. “Why Do Cats Purr?” Purina.com.au, www.purina.com.au/cats/behaviour/purring.
Nicholas, Jason. “Cat Articles.” What Kind of Peanut Butter Is Safe for Dogs?, www.preventivevet.com/cats/how-can-i-tell-if-my-cat-is-in-pain.
Lindsay, Duncan. “What Does It Mean If Your Cat Is ‘Inappropriately Purring’?” Metro, Metro.co.uk, 21 Mar. 2017, metro.co.uk/2017/03/21/what-does-it-mean-if-your-cat-is-inappropriately-purring-6523598/.
Lyons A., Leslie. “Why Do Cats Purr?” Scientific American, www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-cats-purr/.
“The Healing Power of the Cat Purr.” Mental Floss, Mental Floss, 5 May 2015, mentalfloss.com/article/63725/healing-power-cat-purr.
“How Can I Tell If My Cat Is Purring Because It’s Hungry or Wants Something?” WebMD, WebMD, pets.webmd.com/cats/qa/how-can-i-tell-if-my-cat-is-purring-because-its-hungry-or-wants-something.
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