Why Do Cats Purr?
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Why Do Cats Purr?

Est. read time: 8 min.

When you hear your cat purring, you might assume that they are happy. But that assumption may or may not be correct depending on your cat's current mood. So, why do cats purr? From hunger and happiness to growing pains and everything in between, cats purr for a wide array of reasons. Continue reading to learn about the top reasons why cats purr, along with the scientific theories behind why their bodies create the soothing sound. 

How does a cat purr?

The science behind the most recognizable sound of cats is a complicated one because while there are generally accepted theories as to how cats do it, research is still being performed to better understand the mechanisms involved. The answer to the question “How does a cat purr?” has largely been debated by scientists, and new research has just come out with insight into this long-debated phenomenon. 

One of the earlier theories suggested that the production of the purr sound was linked to deoxygenated blood flowing to the right side of the heart. At present, the most accepted explanation involves the muscles of the larynx in the throat. Purring is thought to result from the intermittent activation (dilation and constriction) of laryngeal muscles in response to neural stimulation. The neural oscillator is located at the center of your cat’s brain. This special part of the cat's nervous system then sends a message to the laryngeal muscles: so when cats breathe in or out, the air vibrates, resulting in a purr. 

New research has just been released indicating that there is a mass in cats’ vocal folds that may be responsible for producing a purr as well. This new research does not discredit the previous theory that the laryngeal muscles and brain stimulation are responsible for the purr, but it does indicate that cats are able to purr with more than one mechanism—without requiring brain signals or muscle contractions. This new finding just highlights the beauty of science: it is ever evolving and new explanations for old concepts may come to light. 

Top reasons why cats purr

Now that we’ve explored the larynx and the most current research regarding how the cat purr is produced, we can start looking into the reasons that trigger this response. From pure happiness to calming nerves, cats purr for various reasons. 

Pure happiness

Is purring a sign of happiness? Absolutely! It is well known that cats purr when they are content. Pure happiness can come in a lot of forms. From being curled up in your lap, basking in the sun, or enjoying your petting, your cat's purring could be an indication that they are truly happy at that moment. This is the most common reason for a purr from cats in a relaxed, home setting. Cats are thought to purr in an effort to communicate and interact with both humans and other animals, namely other cats. 

Calm nerves 

When cats are stressed or anxious, they purr to help themselves calm their nerves and self-soothe. Cats sometimes purr to calm the anxiousness from outside stimuli, such as the sound of loud fireworks or the day-to-day irritations like the family dog playing when your feline friend just wants to relax. 


While cats often purr in response to feeling happy, your cat might also purr as a way of self-healing. Vibration frequencies between 24 to 140 vibrations per minute are known to relieve pain, heal wounds, and promote bone growth in cats. It is also noted to promote the repair of muscles and tendons. Interestingly enough, purr frequencies have been found to correspond to the electrical frequencies used to treat conditions in humans such as bone fractures, pain, and wounds.

Exploring new territory

When your cat is exploring new territory,  it’s not uncommon for them to exhibit certain behaviors that mark their territory or signal to other cats that they are friendly. Your cat’s “core territory” is where he or she will feel the most safe and secure. 

However, when your cat enters a new territory, whether it’s outside or in a new home, they find ways to define and explore the newfound territory. During this time of curiosity and exploration, cats might purr as a natural instinct. 

Expressing hunger

Like a baby, cats will often let their owners know they are hungry. This solicitation purr is a way to let their pet parent know that their needs need tending to. To keep your feline happy with a full belly, you can use tools to prevent your beloved furbaby from getting to the point where he or she needs to purr in response to hunger. The purr is much like the cry of a human baby: it is incessant and urgent. 

With an automatic pet feeder like Feeder-Robot, your cat will never need to send you the message that they’re hungry again. Instead, you can automate their feeding schedule to keep them satisfied at all hours of the day! 

Why does my cat purr and bite me?

As a cat parent, it likely does not come as a surprise that your cat can be curled up on your lap and seemingly content in one moment—but then, out of nowhere, your cat bites you! You might think your cat is sending mixed signals. After all, they were just purring as you pet them. 

However, as we explored above, cats purr for a variety of reasons. While they might seem content from your perspective, their purring might be indicative of emotions other than happiness. For example, purring can also be a sign of stress, anxiety, hunger, or pain.  

When you are petting your purring cat, try to read your pet’s body language. Does your cat seem tense or is your cat showing signs of relaxation? Is your cat acting stressed? Does he or she seem hungry? Or is your pet just responding to an unfamiliar environment? 

All of these could be signs that your cat is not as content as you may have thought. Try not to worry, though! Just focus on creating a safe, loving environment that allows your pet the ability to enjoy themselves and calm nerves by purring. If they bite you, they are just sending you a signal that tells you they need some space. 

These signs are especially important for you to discuss with your kids. Preparing your children for the distinct behaviors of your cat will keep your home happy and safe for everyone. 

What should I do when my cat’s purr sounds painful?

Now that we’ve recognized the different reasons that a cat purrs, you will likely be more intuitive and able to decipher the difference between a cat's happy purr versus a healing purr. 

However, there are also going to be times when your cat may be signaling that something is off by exhibiting a painful-sounding purr. In these moments, it's especially important that you pay close attention to your cat’s different types of purrs and know when to take your pet to the vet. 

Recognizing moments when your cat's purr sounds painful can be difficult. After all, it is a cat’s instinct to hide their pain and mask how they feel. You will have to listen very carefully in order to understand that something is wrong with your cat. 

Even subtle signs like their energy levels, appetites, sleep patterns, and behavioral tendencies can help you gauge if cats need to be taken to the veterinarian. Your cat's purr is just another signal that you can use as a tool to spot potential pain or health problems. 

Understanding the purr and how to keep your cat content

As a cat parent, your goal is to ensure that your feline is happy and healthy. You’ll want to provide them with an amazing life, and like other pet parents, you more than likely enjoy hearing the soothing purr that radiates as a sign of your cat’s pure happiness. 

Consider giving them something extra special to purr about like cat furniture for added privacy! These are great additions to any home, as they’ll aid your feline friends during stressful situations and help create a comfy living environment. 

You can continue to explore why your cats purr, as well as begin to pick up on the signs that express their need for the space to heal themselves. But your cat’s purr is not the only way that he or she will interact with you. Understanding your cat's other behaviors, like licking and meowing, can help you further adapt to your feline’s needs!