Updated July 13, 2021
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. Today, we’ll tell you about the top reasons why cats purr, along with the science behind why their bodies create the soothing sound.
How does a cat purr?
There is a lot going on internally when your cat is purring. In fact, there’s probably more going on than you may expect. The science behind the most recognizable sound of cats has become a complicated one. The answer to the question “how does a cat purr?” has largely been debated by scientists.
At first, many thought it was linked to deoxygenated blood flowing to the right side of the heart. However, further research found that the sound itself comes from the muscles within the larynx.
The muscles dilate and constrict the part of the larynx that surrounds the vocal cords, which is an area known as the glottis. When cats breathe in or out, the air vibrates, resulting in a purr!
This process is the answer to the question “how does a cat purr?” – but what triggers the response in the first place? Although we know that the larynx is responsible for the sound, it is believed that the neural oscillator in the cat's brain triggers this response.
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, which create the familiar purring sound that radiates from our feline friends.
Top reasons why cats purr
Now that we’ve explored the larynx and described the way those muscles are responsible for how a cat purrs, we can start looking into the reasons that trigger this response. From pure happiness to calming nerves, cats purr for various reasons.
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.
When cats are stressed or anxious, they purr to help themselves calm nerves and self-soothe. Cats sometimes purr to calm the anxiousness from outside stimuli, such as the sound of loud fireworks.
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.
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. Purring in these instances is a way of marking their territory or making their presence known.
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.
With the automatic 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 where 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 where 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 the Litter-Robot Fancy Cat Sac or a semi-enclosed Cat Silo 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!