Why Do Cats Purr?

If you’re a cat owner (if you’re reading this, the chances are high that you own a feline) or been around one even briefly you may have heard or felt some vibrations when you cuddle with your cat or when it rubs its body against your feet.

While you may have wondered why cats purr when it happens, it is completely pardonable if you’ve waved it aside as simply just another way your cat shows his happiness; like smiling is to humans and tail wagging is to dogs.

Again, this is completely understandable because to many of us cat lovers, in the absence of any “visible” sign of distress, purrs are simply one of the ways our furry feline friends show contentment.  

And the assumption isn't exactly wrong. Cats purr when they’re happy, but this is only one of the several possible reasons for this behavior.

So, really, why do cats purr? We’ll find out soon but we have to first understand how” purring”, the sound most of us have grown to love and associate with satisfaction is produced.

How Do Cats Purr?

Purring occurs as your feline breath in and out. However, before any purring can happen, a “permit” is required from the brain. This “permit” is in the form of a rhythmic, repetitive oscillator that signals the laryngeal muscles, causing them to vibrate at the rate of 25 to 150 Hz (Hertz). This, in turn, results in the immediate separation of the vocal cords as your cat inhale and exhale. 

Interestingly, there are theories that the frequency of the purring vibrations stimulates the muscles and bones, ease breathing and also improve the bone density.

Why Cats Purr?

Communication, safety, and reassurance

Cats are deaf and blind at birth and this makes the vibrations from purring one of the ways cat mother and her offspring can communicate. With it, she reassures them of their safety. It is also a way newborn kittens communicate with their siblings. And as they grow, the purring helps to keep them safe from predators – the vibrations when compared with meows are less likely to be detected by predators.

Also, during delivery, new cat moms are vulnerable and would naturally be unable to defend themselves. Instead of meowing in pain and attracting predators, they purr. Purring not only releases pain-reducing endorphins but also reassures newborns of their safety without attracting predators.

Contentment

You already know it; cats purr as a sign of contentment. Cozying up with their favorite feline friend, lying in the warm sun, snuggling on your lap or on the sofa, or just finishing their favorite meal are the usual signs of satisfaction, all thanks to your care.

Just like smiling is to humans, and tail wagging to dogs, think of your cat’s purr as a massive smile to indicate his satisfaction, but this time, not just with the face but across his entire body.

Fear

Meowing isn't the only sound cats make when they’re frightened or in distress. Purring is commonly used to show fear and one of the places this kind of purring can be observed is at the veterinary clinic and it is usually audible.

For attention

Like young children, cats accompany their requests for attention with sound and purring is one of such sounds. This might be heard at mealtime, when he needs you to retrieve his favorite toy or when he is craving for some “snuggle time” on your lap.

Your feline may also accompany the purring with some animated behaviors such as rubbing against you or weaving in and out of your legs and meowing.

According to experts, you’re more likely to respond to the sound of purring and this may explain why cats have over time learned to do it as a reliable way to get what they want – thankfully, it is usually just food in their bowls or some lap time!

Anxiety and self-soothing

Just like female cats purr during labor as a way to self-soothe and quell anxiety, cats generally get the same feeling from purring. As a stress and anxiety relief method, purring is meant to keep your cat calm and comfy in some unsettling situations, e.g., a visit to the vet.

Lastly, cats can also purr to show anger or discomfort from ill-health. So, while purring is “purrfectly” normal and a common tell-tale sign of contentment, extended periods of purring might be a sign of an undiagnosed health issue requiring a vet’s immediate attention.

Final words on “why cats purr”

Cats are adorable, powerful, and interesting creatures and purring is only one of their many unique characteristics.  However, you should always consult your vet or an expert pet handler if you suspect that your cat’s purrs might be triggered by something more serious or if you feel your cat is purring longer than “normal”.

Questions, thoughts on why cats purr? Share in the comment section below.

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