Cats are always so curious and at times, they can be very mysterious. But the most puzzling behavior is when cats purr! Why do cats purr? What does it mean? Let’s explore this question in detail.
Cats often purr during moments of bonding, to show affection, or in response to petting and head scratches. However purring may also be an indication that your cat is stressed, and it uses this mechanism to self-soothe.
Let’s take a deeper dive into understanding why and how cats purr, so you can better understand the emotions and biology of your furry friend.
Why Do Cats Purr?
Cats purr to show contentment and happiness, similar to human laughter. They also purr as a form of self-soothing – in other words when they’re stressed or anxious about something (such as being separated from their mothers or their owners) they purr as a form of self-comfort.[Source]
Cats begin purring when they’re a couple of weeks old. It may be a way that they communicate with their mother and other kittens during the weaning process. This phenomenon is universal to all cats, including the lynx, puma, bobcat, and cheetah.
This indicates that the sound didn’t co-evolve as a way for domestic cats to communicate with humans.
Some cat owners can identify different types of purrs from their pets. It’s difficult to break down exactly how many types of purrs there are, but it’s safe to say that cats make a variety of meows and different sounds using their voice boxes.
Some experts believe the “friendly” type of purr comes from the cat’s diaphragm and soft palate that produce vibrations at a different frequency than other types of meows. This cats purring meaning is the most commonly ascribed one by pet owners.[Source]
What Happens When a Cat Purrs?
The science behind purring is that the cat’s laryngeal and diaphragmatic muscles move in a way to produce vibration. This motion, coupled with inhalation and exhalation through their mouth or nose can create a deep rumbling sound.
The frequency of these harmonic vibrations falls between 25-150 hertz (Hz), which is why it often feels like the purring is coming from deep inside of the feline. Cats can control these muscles voluntarily, but it’s unknown if all cats are capable of doing so.[Source]
Purring creates a vibration in their throat that’s often accompanied by contractions of the Sphinx muscle, which runs from the jawbone up to the ears. Interestingly, there is no scientific consensus on the purpose of this muscle.
Why do cats purr when you pet them?
Cats are usually very happy when you pet them or scratch their head. Purring releases endorphins and serotonin, which act as natural painkillers for the animal. It also provides them with a sense of well-being and lets their owners know how they feel.
But the purr can also be an indication that your cat is stressed, and it uses this mechanism to self-soothe. This will happen if your cat is left alone for extended periods of time or from other types of emotional distress.
You can try to identify if your cat is stress-purring by paying attention to its breathing pattern. If you notice it has shallow breaths, then this is a sign that your cat may be stressed and using purring as an outlet for self-soothing. Make sure to also check if your cat is experiencing any pain.
Cat purring is also beneficial for humans as well! Studies show that when people listen to a cat purring, they’re at a lower risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks. It also releases endorphins in humans as well. No wonder we receive such therapeutic value from hours of watching cute cat videos.
There are many benefits for both cats and humans when it comes to the mighty roar!
Why Do Cats Purr and Then Bite You?
Your cat may bite you during a purr-filled pet session because he’s acting territorially. Perhaps you’ve touched him in a spot that he is sensitive to have touched, such as his tail.
It could also be a sign that your cat doesn’t like the way you’re petting him. Consider adjusting your pressure, and make sure you’re petting your cat “with the grain” to emulate their grooming habits.
You may also want to adjust the speed at which your petting your cat. Slower consistent strokes tend to be more relaxing for animals. Another trick is to let your kitty sniff your hand before you pet them. This lets a cat know that you’re friendly and non-aggressive.
Some cats, especially when younger, may playfully bite you as a way to show affection. They may even purr while doing so! Cats will sometimes gently bite your hand as a way to pause your action, and then they will begin to lick and groom you in return. This is similar to how a mother cat may handle a kitten in their younger days.
[Related Article: Why Does My Cat Scratch Windows And Mirrors]
Why Doesn’t My Cat Purr?
If your cat doesn’t purr or has stopped purring, it’s not necessarily a sign of unhappiness or trauma. Your cat may prefer other ways of expressing themselves and if their owner responds to these expressions, they may have less of a need to purr.
There may be an issue or limitation with your cat’s vocal cords if they have never purred. However, if they can breathe, drink, and eat properly, it likely isn’t a major issue. If you notice changes in your cat’s mood or energy level or suspect they are in any pain, take them to a vet immediately to make sure everything is ok.
Cats often purr during moments of bonding, to show affection, or in response to petting and head scratches. Purring may also be an indication that your cat is stressed – it uses this mechanism as a way of self-soothing.
The truth is that no one’s quite sure why cats are so drawn to this behavior! Although purring is a relative mystery, one thing we do know is that it has many different meanings, and it often coincides with happiness.
So next time you hear your kitty meow, it’s important to pay attention and gauge the tone along with their body language because each type has its own cats purring meaning.