Why do cats purr?

Danielle Petch
A cat being petted by a person

Purrs, meows, chirrups and chatters. Our feline friends can be pretty vocal when they want to be. And for cat owners, curling up with a purring kitty brings a joy like no other. 

Purring is one of the most common sounds a cat will make, and while many people assume purring = happy cats, this isn’t always the case. While you can never be sure exactly what your cat is trying to tell you (try as we might), what we do know is that cats purr for a number of reasons, from feeling happy and content to helping heal an injury.

Knowing the different types of purrs your cat makes can help you to better understand your cat, as well as strengthen the bond you have together. Let’s take a look at some of the main reasons why your cat might be purring…

Is my cat purring because they’re happy?

Cats express their feelings through sound, so just as we’d expressed happiness with a smile, your cat expresses their happiness with a purr. When a cat is purring, looking restful and relaxed, it’s safe to assume this is because they are feeling happy and content in their environment.

Is my pet asking for food?

Another reason cats purr is to ask their owners for something — such as food, attention, or whatever else they might need. These types of purrs are also called ‘solicitation purrs,’ which has a more urgent, cry-like sound to it. Sometimes, they can be intertwined with a meow, and more often than not can be heard around dinner time!

Could my pet be in pain?

Purring is often associated with happy cats, but could purring mean something else? Actually, yes, as cats have been shown to purr when they are in pain or otherwise stressed — it’s why cats purr in the most unlikely of scenarios, such as when giving birth, or at the vets. So, as well as being a sign of affection, purring can be a calming mechanism that helps cats to calm down, soothe stress and tension. 

If you do have any concerns about your cat's health, then do seek advice from a vet. Remember, if you’re a TrustedHousesitters member you can access free 24/7 expert veterinary advice while on a sit, simply by calling your dedicated Vet Advice Line.

A cat being petted by a person

Do cats purr to heal themselves?

As well as comforting your cat in times of need, it’s believed that purring can actually aid healing. Scientists believe that the low-frequency vibration of a purr can help to heal bones and wounds, repair muscles and tendons, lessen swelling, and even act as a painkiller.

It’s not just cats, either — as it’s also been suggested that these feline superpowers can help us humans, too. In fact, cats are known to calm, soothe, and de-stress their humans (as well as reduce blood pressure), simply by being around them.

Do cats use purring to communicate? 

From making noises to their body language, cats communicate in many different ways, purring included. Kittens learn to purr when they’re just a few days old, and this is so they can communicate with their mother. As kittens are blind and deaf when they are first born, the mum’s purr also helps her kittens to find and nurse from her. 

Do all cats purr?

While most domestic cats will do, some feral and wild cats will not. This can be for many reasons, from not wanting to attract predators to there simply being no need — after all, domesticated cats tend to be more vocal due to their relationship with humans. Big cats — such as lions, tigers, and leopards — also don’t purr, and this is because of the differences in their vocal chords. 

If you think your cat doesn’t purr, it’s worth remembering that some cats purr in silence — so you’ll only know by feeling the vibrations when you next scooch up to give them a cuddle! 

Need a kind and caring person to keep your cat happy at home while you’re away? Explore our caring community and connect with a cat-loving pet sitter who your kitty is sure to love, or watch our short video explaining how it all works.

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