grey cat purring

Cats purr for many reason.

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Why do cats purr?

By Emilie Heyl Content Writer

Updated on the

We've all heard the soothing sound of a cat purr, but what does it mean when our pet kitties make that super cute noise? Are they trying to tell us something important? Does purring always mean our cats are happy? Are they just hungry? And how do they even make that sound anyway?

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. 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.

We did some digging to answer all these big questions on why your cats purr. We even discovered some pretty amazing facts that suggest there's much more to purring than anyone could have ever imagined,  including its scientifically proven healing properties for cats and humans.  

So here's everything you need to know about why your cat purrs!

What does it mean when a cat purrs?

Purring is an important part of cat behaviour, and it's usually a good sign. In other words, cats purr when they're happy or content. That's why your little kitty purrs when you stroke his chin or when she's snuggled up on your lap. Purring is your cat's way of saying, "Yeah, I like this! This is exactly where I want to be right now!"

It's also a cat's way of getting their humans attention. More than likely, they're probably looking for an extra treat, or they know it’s almost dinner time. But purring can also be a distress signal. Your cat may be ill, injured, or feeling anxious. Experts call these solicitation purrs, and they have a slightly different pitch to a normal purr. Solicitation purrs will have a crying like sound. In fact, the frequency is very similar to a baby cry!

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.

Why does my cat start purring when he sees me?

If your furry friend starts purring the second you walk through the door, then you're probably doing something right. It means they've missed you and are looking forward to some quality time with their favourite human. So take it as a compliment! Then again, there's always the chance they're just hungry!

Do cat purrs have health benefits to humans?

Some experts believe purring has unique healing properties for cats and humans. Your cat purrs at a frequency between 25-140 HZ. Amazingly, this is the same frequency that assists in physical healing, including muscle repair and bone repair. It can also help ease any breathing difficulties and strengthen bone density!

There are some instances where cats appeared to have cured migraines by simply lying down and purring next to a test subject. Doctor call this 'healing by association.' It's unclear if the purrs have any direct correlation to curing migraines, or whether it's the ability to induce a sense of calm that eases the symptoms.

Why is the sound of a purring cat soothing?

Spending time with happy pets makes us feel happy, too. The same goes for other positive feelings like contentment. In a sense, we soak up emotions from our pets. The question as to whether this is physical, mental, or part of another mysterious process remains unanswered. Either way, cat's have a massive effect on our mental state and being with a purring kitty who's completely content with life makes us feel something very similar!

Scientists have also found that owning a cat can reduce a person's chance of suffering a heart attack and other stress-related diseases by as much as 33%!  Cat owners also report an improved sense of well-being after spending time with their pets. Petting a cat for just a few minutes releases dopamine and serotonin, two 'feel-good' chemicals in the human brain that are crucial in maintaining a positive outlook.

Do we know exactly how cats produce the purring sound?

Cats have no particular muscles or organs that make them purr. Instead, it's a combination of rapid movements of the laryngeal muscles around the larynx (the voicebox. Or, this case, the meow-box) and the diaphragm (some of these muscles vibrate 20 to 30 times a second!) When your cat inhales and exhales, the air bounces of the vibrating muscles, creating that distinct purring noise.  Every cat has its own unique style of purring. Some felines emit of low rumbling sound, while others can be loud enough to hear in the next room!

So now you understand why and how cats purr, make an extra effort to always listen to the tone of your kitty's purr. They might be trying to tell you that everything isn't ok! However, most of the time, these cute furballs are just expressing how happy and content they feel!

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