Why do cats purr?

Ever wondered why cats purr? It’s often said that cats purr when they’re happy, a bit like dogs wagging their tail, but, just as we know that dogs can wag their tails for other reasons too, there can be other reasons and situations in which cats purr. This week, we’ve put our investigative hat back on to find out why, and when, cats purr. 


Natusan cat

But first—how do they purr?

Before we dive into the why and the when, we thought it was best to find out *how* our cats make their incredibly cute purrs. For a long time scientists weren’t sure, but we now know that a cat’s purring comes from its voice box. The scientific explanation is quite wordy, but it’s basically the result of air vibrating over the muscles around their voice box.

Only domestic cats and some types of wild cat can purr. Big cats with the ability to roar—like lions and tigers—can’t purr. Their larynxes are different, meaning cats that purr can’t roar, and cats that roar can’t purr! We’re quite glad really, because we don’t fancy being woken up every morning by a roaring rescue cat. 


Natusan cat

Often they purr because they’re content

You know that purr when they’re getting all the attention they want curled up next to you on the sofa? Well, in this case, you can be almost certain that they’re purring because they’re happy and feel safe with you—and maybe because they want you to carry on giving them attention! So the most commonly assumed reason for why cats purr is, in many cases, correct. But there are other reasons too…


Natusan cat

Sometimes they purr because they want to be fed

Cats begin purring as tiny kittens at just 2 days old, and it serves a very practical purpose: helping their mothers find them when it’s time to be fed. As kittens are born blind and deaf, the vibrations of their mother’s purring also lets them know where she is. Sometimes, this behaviour of purring when they think it’s time to be fed can carry on into adulthood—so if your cat purrs when they think it’s dinner time, this is why! 

You might have noticed a difference in the way they purr, too. Scientists have found that, unlike the typical purr of contentment, this type of tea-time purring also contains a little high-pitched cry, designed to elicit a response from their owners. It’s called solicitation purring, and it’s a bit like the cry of a baby, which humans naturally want to respond to. We knew our cats were smart, but this is another level of genius.


Natusan cat

They can also purr to soothe or heal themselves 

If you thought that was impressive, then prepare to be amazed: the vibrations that result from a cat’s purr are believed to have healing qualities. The frequency of their purring is thought to have the ability to promote the healing of bone and tissue, healing injuries and helping to relieve pain—although it’s definitely no substitute for a trip to the vet! Purring is also thought to calm them by releasing endorphins, so cats may purr if they’re stressed as a way of soothing themselves. It has an added benefit for us too: research has shown that the sounds of a cat purring can even reduce stress in humans, but cat owners could probably tell you that already.

14/01/2022 by NatuTeam

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