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Why do cats purr?

grey cat purring advice © Shutterstock

It can often be hard to understand what your cat’s purring means. However, it doesn’t always mean the same thing and can indicate pleasure just as often as pain or stress. It is therefore necessary to correctly decypher its meaning.

By Emilie Heyl

Does your cat begin to purr just as he settles on your lap? He’s expressing his joy! 

But be aware, a suffering cat may also purr to reassure himself. 

How to recognise a purr?

From just two days old, a cat is capable of purring. Purring is the easiest low-pitched noise to recognise. 

It is accompanied by rapid contractions of the larynx and diaphragm muscles and only occurs in the presence of other cats or people.

A cat’s purr: what does it mean? 

We can generally consider purring to be the feline equivalent of a human’s smile: they have the same ethological significance. It is a means of communication. 

We can smile because we are happy, but we can equally smile in hard or embarrassing situations, or to show that we are well inclined or have no aggressive intentions. 

But an injured, ill or suffering cat also purrs. Similarly, a cat that is giving birth or suckling can be purring for reassurance. 

Other low-pitched sounds are used to ask for something, to greet, to mark recognition or approval, like a short, isolated murmur, where the intonation drops quickly.

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