8 Reasons Why Cats Purr

Most of us associate a cat’s purr with love and happiness, but let’s take a look at some of the other reasons why cats purr.

Jan 1, 2024By Ryan Brennan
reasons why cats purr

There’s nothing more soothing than a cat’s purr, but what does it really mean when your cat’s breathing turns into a mini symphony? Do any of us really know?

The truth is there are a variety of reasons why cats purr, and it’s not always because they’re happy. How they’re feeling in that particular moment, their environment, the people (or animals) they’re surrounded by – it all depends on the situation.

Don’t worry – we’re going to break down everything you need to know about your cat’s purr.

The Science Behind a Cat’s Purr

striped cat scratches purr

Before we delve into the reasons why cats purr, it’s important we understand the science behind a cat’s purr. Unlike a meow or yowl (which occur on exhales only), purring can occur on inhales and exhales.

It all starts when a neural oscillator sends messages to the cat’s vocal cords. As the cat inhales and exhales, air travels through the voice box (larynx) and causes the muscles of the vocal cords to vibrate.

The vibrations then cause the hyoid bone (located in the throat) to resonate and rumble at a very low frequency – this is where the symphony comes from.

While purring is almost exclusive to domestic cats, some wild cats (cheetahs, bobcats, cougars) and other animals (guinea pigs, hyenas, raccoons) can also purr. In general, cats that roar don’t purr – and cats that purr don’t roar.

With that said, let’s take a look at the eight most prominent reasons why cats purr.

8. Happy Cat

gray cat happy eyes closed

Every cat owner knows this type of purr – the happy purr. Your cat’s eyes are half-closed (if not all the way closed), they’re kneading your thigh or the nearest blanket, and they have that big smile on their face. This is what we call a happy cat. And a happy cat means a happy owner.

If you see your cat in this state, the only logical thing to do is give them some head scratches and show them some love – they’ll reciprocate that same energy!

7. Communicating with Mama

mama cat licking kitten

Did you know cats can’t see or hear for the first week or two of their life? The ear canals generally start to open at the one-week mark, while the eyes begin to open by the two-week mark.

If kittens can’t see or hear for the first two weeks of their life, how do they communicate with their mama? Through purring! Whether they need food or attention, the mama cat will always respond to their kitten’s purr – it’s a natural instinct!

In fact, some experts believe this instinct is the reason why cats purr around their owner – it’s one of the many ways they communicate with us!

6. Healing & Pain-Relief

orange cat laying ground

Doctors have been using low frequencies to treat pain and stimulate healing for decades, but did you know the same is true with a cat’s purr? Some experts believe cats use the low frequencies of their purr to help them overcome infections, pain, and other injuries.

If you’re wondering why your cat is purring for no reason, observe their behavior. Do they have a limp? Are they licking themselves constantly in one area? Do they seem bothered? If so, give them some love – if they’re not already purring, your love will do the trick, and they’ll get some relief as a result!

5. Saying Hello to Other Cats

group kittens blue eyes

We all know how territorial cats can get when surrounded by other cats or animals, but that’s not always true. Every now and then, you might see your cat purr when approached by other animals.

Cats often use their purr as a friendly greeting to other animals. Think of it as a peace offering – it’s their way of saying, “Hi, I don’t mean any harm, I come in peace, so let’s be friends!”

If you see your cat purring around your other pets, that’s a good sign. It means they’re bonding and connecting, which makes for a happy home and a happy owner!

4. Hungry Cat

cat hungry food bowl

While we often associate a cat’s purr with a happy and content kitty, it can also be associated with a hungry kitty. Studies show that these purrs are more high-pitched (almost like a chirp) and have a more urgent tone, making them easily distinguishable from normal purrs.

If your cat’s purr sounds different than usual, it might be time to feed them. They tend to save this strategy for moments of desperation, especially if it has worked in the past – believe it or not, they’ll catch on if it works enough times. And if they catch on, they will use the strategy again, if needed.

3. Stress Management

gray cat vet table

You might not think about it, but your cat gets stressed just like the rest of us. They have moments where they feel anxious, nervous, and even scared. A perfect example of this is during a thunderstorm – they creep low to the ground and find cover immediately. In fact, they might even be purring.

In this case, your cat isn’t happy or hungry – they’re worried. The purring is believed to have self-soothing capabilities that help calm the cat’s nerves in times of stress. Much like the vibrations from a massage chair help calm us down, the vibrations from a cat’s purr help calm them down!

2. Desperate for Attention

white orange cat lap

Sometimes cats purr because they’re happy and want to give their owner some love, but other times, they purr because they’re lonely and want that same love and affection returned. This is usually where they hop up on your desk and plop themselves on top of your keyboard – demanding scratches, of course.

If you’re like me, you cave every time. They’re already purring as they walk up to you, their eyes are all glossy, and they give you the cutest little meow – they’ve already won.

1. Feels Safe

gray white cat laying down

The final reason why cats purr is because they feel safe. This generally happens when they’re on their owner’s lap, and there’s no sign of a threat or enemy. It’s the type of feeling they wouldn’t get often in the wild, so they show their gratitude and appreciation by purring.

This is also when you’ll see your cat start kneading a blanket, piece of furniture, or even its owner. It’s a sign that your cat feels safe around you and is one of the biggest compliments a cat can give its owner.

Ryan Brennan
By Ryan Brennan

Ryan is a content writer with 10+ years of experience in the field. He is the proud owner of a white domestic short-haired cat with black spots named Jaxx - he looks like a cow, but acts and sounds like a cat. They enjoy doing laps around the house with a laser pointer and snuggling when it’s time for bed. Ryan hopes to give Jaxx a puppy friend someday.