Cat Care 101: When, How and Why Do Cats Purr?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

women petting kitten wondering why do cats purr

Take a guess at how many cat lovers melt when they hear a kitty purr. Answer: all of them! But how many pet owners can actually answer the question “Why do cats purr?” Not very many. A purring sound can have a lot of different meanings. Sure, cats that purr are usually happy; but did you know they can also be frightened? Keep reading to learn more!

A Look at Why Cats Purr: The Answer’s Not That Simple!

Like with most things, the answer to “Why do cats purr?” is far from obvious. But it’s fine, it’s all the more interesting this way!

A cat’s purr can mean a variety of things. For instance, it can mean they’re happy. On the other hand, it can also mean they’re frightened or feeling threatened.

Amazingly, even injured cats purr, precisely because the vibrations have healing properties. This unexpected behavior is known as vibration therapy and it’s being studied by scientists now. How cool would it be if your cat’s purring sounds could heal your broken bones?!

Why Do Cats Purr and What Does It Mean When a Cat Purrs

It’s not just domestic cats who purr occasionally. Some wild cats, such as cheetahs and mountain lions, can too. But why do cats purr? Well, they’re usually expressing an emotion or healing themselves. But if you want to know why exactly it is that they’re purring, you’ll have to watch their body language and normal behavior.

Here’s another fact for you: Other animals, such as guinea pigs and raccoons, can purr as well! Their larynx and vocal folds resemble that of a cat, which is why they make a similar sound when purring.

5 Reasons for Cat Purring

Let’s break down the answers to “why do cats purr?” Take note so you can understand your furry friend better!

  1. They are feeling contentment and joy.
  2. They’re healing their muscles and bones.
  3. Purring is a pain relief strategy for cats.
  4. They’re frightened of something.
  5. Purring sounds may also mean a cat feels threatened.

cat purring and nuzzling person's hand

First Things First: How Does a Cat Purr?

Now that you can answer “why do cats purr,” it’s time to learn how they do it. In the 19th century, scientists thought the way a cat’s blood flows caused the purring sounds. Now, we know it’s coming from a cat’s throat because of how their muscles relax and contract.

Hear Your Cat Purring? Here’s How They Make That Cat Purr Sound

All purring starts in the brain. It sends a nervous signal to the larynx and its muscles, which makes them start vibrating. Then, the vocal cords separate and tense up. So, during inhalation and exhalation, that soothing purring sound comes out.

Purrs, Chirps, and Meows: Every Cat Sound Is Different!

Not all domestic cats purr: that’s a fact. Luckily, there are other ways of them expressing emotions.

Growling is a well-known sound that scares many owners—and other cats! It’s meant to mark a cat’s territory and chase something (or someone) out of it.

Meowing is the quintessential kitty noise. Baby cats meow so their moms know where they are at all times. In the wild, cats stop meowing when they mature, but domestic cats keep this sound. They only meow at humans and there are tons of different meows with different meanings!

Cat Communication 101: There Are Many Other Cat Sounds

Cats can be super talkative. Some breeds (like the Siamese) are notorious for meowing a lot. Others don’t meow but make other noises to both other cats and their owners. What do they all mean?

adorable cat making kitten sounds

Why Do Cats Chirp?

Most cats chirp. Yours has probably chirped at you even without you knowing what it means! It’s somewhat of a cross between a purr and a meow and it’s usually used as a greeting to other cats or humans.

Why Do Cats Yowl?

Yowling is a major sign of stress. Imagine a cat who’s inside a carrier yowling at their owner. They’re asking them to please let them out so they can be in an environment they like better.

The Ultimate Happiness Noise: Happy Kitten Sounds!

Besides purring, there are other happy kitty noises. Chattering, for instance, is very common in domestic cats. They do this when they spot prey (a bird or a toy fishing rod) and want to catch it. They’re excited!

Help! My Cat Won’t Stop Meowing!

If Mittens keeps meowing all the time, that could be a problem. It could mean they’re in pain and need help getting better.

First of all, don’t get alarmed. Observe their body language: do they seem stressed and in pain? Listen to see if your kitty has trouble inhaling or exhaling. It could mean they have laryngeal paralysis and, thus, difficulty breathing.

Cats Purring? Cute! Kitten Noises? Cute! Cat Keeps Meowing? NOT Cute!

What’s important is that you don’t lose your cool. If Mittens is acting strange and looks strained, rush them to a licensed veterinarian clinic. There, they’ll get all the assistance they need to fight whatever has gotten them down.

happy kitten making cat sound

A Comfortable Purring Cat Is Calming for Humans Too!

It’s not a coincidence that pet owners feel relaxed when they hear a cat purr. It’s such a comforting noise, for reasons science has explained! Cat muscles vibrate when they purr, which can lower our blood pressure. Some researchers are even looking into vibration therapy for humans to replicate what a purr does to a cat’s body!

Common Questions on Why Do Cats Purr

Do cats only purr when they’re happy?

Do cats purr at each other?

Is it okay if my cat purrs a lot?

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