Mystery Explained: Why Do Our Cats Purr?

The Mystery Of The Purr

Our feline friends make an array of intriguing noises from meowing, hissing, and even growling depending on their mood. However, the unique and fascinating "purr" is one sound all cat owners love to hear from their fur babies.  

But why and how do cats purr exactly? And what does it mean if a cat purrs at or around you? We explored these questions to deepen our understanding of the soft, vibrating sound we've all come to know and love.

Why Cats Purr 

While a cat will purr when it’s feeling happy, this is not the only reason why purring occurs. Furthermore, if your cat is purring, you should not automatically assume that it means they are in a good mood. Let’s go over all the possible reasons why your cat may be purring.  

1.They Are Happy 

cute cat getting pet uncovering the mysteries of why cat's purr when they're happy or sad

Most commonly, cats will purr because they are feeling content and relaxed. You can easily spot if happiness is the reason for your kitty’s purr. It’s likely to be the case if they look comfortable and at ease, their pupils are neither dilated nor constricted, and their tail is not wagging. They're peaceful and relaxed at this moment.

2.They Are Hungry  

cute cat getting pet uncovering the mysteries of why cat's purr when they're happy or sad

Kittens begin to purr at just a few days old. They do it as a way to let their mama know where they are. This helps their mother find them when it’s feeding time. As they grow up, some cats will purr when they are hungry out of instinct. In this case, they are trying to tell you that they want food. The association between purring and feeding also causes some cats to purr as they eat.  

Interestingly, if your kitty is purring for food, it will likely sound different from a "happy" purr. While a usual content purr has a low frequency, a purr for food will be more high-pitched and audible. It almost sounds like a faint but urgent cry within the purr, which instinctively prompts you to act and tend to them. 

3.They Are Exploring A New Environment 

cute cat getting pet uncovering the mysteries of why cat's purr when they're happy or sad

Have you ever noticed your cat purring as they investigate something new in the home, such as a brand-new cardboard box or a cat tower? Some felines are known to purr when they are cautiously exploring new objects and environments. 

4.They Are Hurt Or In Pain 

cute cat getting pet uncovering the mysteries of why cat's purr when they're happy or sad

Cats can also purr to comfort themselves. If a kitty is in pain or injured, they will purr to soothe the pain, the same way a child sucks their thumb after hurting themselves. If your feline is hurting, the vibration’s low frequency can help them heal themselves - we’ll explain this more in-depth later.  

So, how do you know if your cat is purring in pain? If an injury is causing the purring, they will be resting considerably more than usual, and purring will accompany their rest time. A purr essentially provides a low-energy way for a kitty to self-repair their bones and tissues while they rest. 

5.They Are Calming Themself Down 

cute cat getting pet uncovering the mysteries of why cat's purr when they're happy or sad

A purr is not just physically rejuvenating for a kitty. It is also a way for them to ease their breathing and calm themself down when they are afraid or stressed. Many situations trigger stress and fear in our cats, so they will use their purr to manage those stress levels. Therefore, if your kitty is purring at the vets, it’s probably not because they are happy to be there! 

How Cats Purr 

Our feline friends make an array of intriguing noises from meowing, hissing, and even growling depending on their mood. However, the unique and fascinating "purr" is one sound all cat owners love to hear from their fur babies.    But why and how do cats purr exactly? And what does it mean if a cat purrs at or around you? We explored these questions to deepen our understanding of the soft, vibrating sound we've all come to know and love.

The purring in cats is not fully understood, but scientists believe purring comes from a cat’s voice box rather than a specific organ for the function. Furthermore, purring appears to be a muscular twitch rather than vocal communication.   

In simple terms, purring occurs when your kitty’s central nervous system sends signals to their brain. A neural oscillator in the brain then causes muscles in the larynx to rapidly open and close the glottis (the opening between the vocal folds in the larynx) as the kitty breathes. 

This action creates the vibrations that result in the purring sound. Cat’s purr on auto-pilot, meaning they do not consciously control the action while it's happening. 

The Magic Of The Purr 

cute cat getting pet uncovering the mysteries of why cat's purr when they're happy or sad

For most cat lovers, having a cat purr while sitting on you feels incredibly soothing and relaxing. However, the action of purring can offer healing properties as well.  

The reason purring can promote healing is down to the specific sound and vibration of the purr. Feline purrs fluctuate between 20-140 Hz, a frequency range proven to be medically therapeutic. Purring has been said to aid in healing injuries to bones and wounds by decreasing pain and inflammation and building and repairing tendons.  

Bone responds to a vibrational frequency of 25-50Hz, whereas skin and soft tissues can heal with around 100Hz. Both of these are in the frequency range of a purr. This could be how cats seem to have nine lives and can endure such high falls while landing on their feet. 

Cats not only soothe and heal themselves with their purr, but they can relax, destress, and heal their humans too. These perfect purrs can help cat owners lower their stress and blood pressure and alleviate aches and pains. Studies have shown that owning a cat could cut the risk of strokes or heart disease by as much as one-third.  

Why Is My Cat Purring So Loud?⠀  

A cat purrs louder than usual for a few reasons. 

  • If they are incredibly pleased and comfortable, the volume of their purr could increase. Remember, they're not consciously doing it, it's just a reflection of their mood and well being. Perhaps they just received their favorite treat or have been enjoying some chin pets!  
  • Older cats generally purr louder than younger ones, so you might notice your kitty’s purr gets louder as they age.  
  • Lastly, if your feline is experiencing any respiratory illness, they could purr louder than average too. 

Final Thoughts 

A cat’s purr is genuinely magnificent and equally mysterious. Next time your fur baby comes to sit on your lap and starts to purr, put your phone down and close your eyes. Connect to the purring’s sound and vibration and allow the enchanting sound to work its magic on you. 

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