Cat Purring: What Does it Mean When a Cat Purrs?

Behavior & training
Cat Purring While Being Petted

Did you ever snuggle with a cat as a child, lulled by the rhythmic rumble of their purr? We all learn early on that a purr signifies a happy kitty. But what if there's more to the story? While contentment is certainly a reason cats purr, this captivating sound holds a deeper meaning. Delving into the science behind cat purrs reveals a hidden language, allowing you to decipher your feline friend's true emotions and strengthen your bond.  

Reasons for Cats Purring 

A cat's purr is more than calming; it's a symphony of subtle variations. Imagine these variations as melodies, each offering clues to your cat's emotions.  Since cats purr for many different reasons, let’s unpack the cat purring meaning so you can better understand your feline friend.  

Cats Purr When They’re Happy 

Even though it’s not the only reason a cat purrs, cats certainly do purr when they’re happy, content, and relaxed. If you’re petting your cat and notice they’re beginning to purr even louder, they are really enjoying it! Some cat breeds are more affectionate than others, and the friendliest cat breeds may be even more inclined to purr more because they’re just so happy to have you continuously pet them! 

Cats Purr for Communication Between Mother and Kittens 

Unlike human babies, kittens enter the world blind and deaf. In these crucial first days, purring first emerges as a vital communication tool. Mother cats purr frequently, and these comforting vibrations act as a beacon for their helpless offspring. By feeling the rhythmic rumble against their bodies, kittens can locate their mother, a crucial step for nursing and staying warm. The mother's purr also serves as a source of comfort and security, a constant reminder of her presence in a world of unfamiliar sensations.  

Cats Purr When They’re Hungry  

Not only do cats have different types of purrs, they can also combine their purrs with other noises, like a meow. Kittens instinctively use their purr to signal hunger to their mothers. This early association continues into adulthood, with some cats strategically deploying their purr to nudge their humans for a meal. Often, these "hunger purrs" are accompanied by additional vocalizations like meows, creating a more insistent message for their favorite food. 

Cats Purr When They Want Attention 

Similarly, a purr combined with rubbing against your legs or nudging your hand can indicate a desire for attention. In this case, the purr softens the request, making it more endearing and persuasive. That rumbling purr is their ultimate persuasion tactic, turning even the most stubborn human into a pushover. 

Purring is Healing 

Did you know purring has healing benefits? One study shows that the frequency of purring (between 25 and 150 Hz) is actually the same frequency as many treatments for things like bone fractures, pain, and wounds. Cats have been known to purr even when they’re in pain, and it’s because the frequency of their purr is believed to be an internal healing mechanism.  

Purring for Self-Soothing and Stress Relief 

Since we know purring is actually healing for cats, it makes sense that it also may be soothing and provide some stress relief. Cats may purr during stressful times to self-soothe. When faced with stressful situations, like a trip to the vet or a new pet in the house, a cat may begin to purr. This rhythmic rumble is believed to trigger the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals, promoting a sense of calm and reducing stress. 

How Cats Purr 

You might be surprised to know that domestic cats aren’t the only animals that purr! Many wild cats, like bobcats and mountain lions, also purr. The only cats that don’t purr are large cats that roar, like lions and tigers. Plus, other animals can purr too, like guinea pigs, hyenas, and even racoons.  

Purring is complex and has been tricky to study, but a new study indicates that there are “pads” embedded in cat’s vocal cords, which add an extra layer of fatty tissue that allows them to vibrate at low frequencies. This study also makes another big, unique conclusion – purring doesn’t require any input from the brain. This means the rumble could be a self-sustaining reflex, kicking in automatically.  

Friendly Cat Purring at Person's Legs

How to Decode Your Cat’s Purr 

As we mentioned above, cats purr for many varied reasons, so it makes sense that they have different sounding purrs for different purposes – like how dogs have different barks!  

Happy Purr. A happy purr is your standard, classic purr that results from happiness (and maybe a good ear scratch). Your cat will appear very relaxed and as if they are falling asleep.  

Meow Purr. A meow purr is when your cat adds a subtle purr to their average meow, and this is to get your attention for some reason, like wanting food. Cats in this situation will seem demanding and may even head butt you as they rub their body on you.  

Hurt or Scared Purr. When cats are sick or in pain, they may purr to release the healing frequencies and to self-soothe. Cats in this case will usually hide, but if you notice your cat purring during their sleep, it could be because they're under the weather.  

Identifying the Meaning Behind a Cat’s Purr 

As you and your cat spend more time together and form a closer bond, you’ll be able to decipher your cat’s unique purrs and understand what they’re trying to communicate. Using context clues like body language will also help you understand your cat. If your cat seems fearful or timid, they may be in pain. If they’re running around while head butting you and purring, they might just be seeking more food.  

Protecting Your Purrfect Friend's Health with Cat Insurance 

Cats are stoic creatures, adept at hiding discomfort. While a happy purr is a clear sign of feline contentment, a subtle change in pitch or rhythm might indicate your cat is feeling sick. Here's where understanding your cat's unique purrs becomes crucial. 

For instance, a high-pitched, strained purr, especially when accompanied by lethargy or hiding behavior, could signal a urinary tract infection (UTI). Left untreated, UTIs can progress to bladder stones, requiring surgery – a procedure that can cost thousands of dollars. 

Another cause for concern is a purr that seems raspy or breathless. This could indicate respiratory problems like asthma or feline bronchitis. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to manage these conditions, but ongoing medication and specialized care can add up quickly. 

Even the rhythmic purr you love can become a red flag. Sometimes, cats purr in pain. If your cat's purr seems quieter or more effortful than usual, especially when they're not moving much, it's important to schedule a vet visit. Early detection of conditions can significantly impact treatment costs. 

Unexpected veterinary expenses can be a major stressor for cat parents. This is where cat insurance becomes a purrfect solution. 

Cat insurance acts like a safety net for your feline friend's health. These plans help cover unexpected veterinary expenses, from illnesses to emergency situations. With cat insurance, you can focus on what matters most – your furry friend's well-being – rather than worrying about the financial burden of unexpected medical care.  

Benefits of Cat Purring for Humans 

Owning a cat is a rewarding experience. From the joy of their playful antics to the comforting warmth of their purrs, cats enrich our lives in countless ways. Cat insurance helps ensure your feline friend receives the care they need to live a long and healthy life, deepening the special bond you share.  

As time goes on, we’re learning that pets are powerful and having a human-animal relationship has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol and lower blood pressure. In fact, cats are so emotionally beneficial for humans that some cats may even be a service cat and provide emotional support to their human. 

While the exact science is still being explored, some studies suggest that simply being around a purring cat can promote relaxation and a sense of calm in humans. This lowered stress response, potentially coupled with the specific frequencies of the purr, might contribute to pain reduction, improved sleep quality, and even faster healing from injuries. So next time you snuggle with your purring companion, take a deep breath and appreciate the full-body relaxation (and potential health boost) they're offering. 

Learn Why Your Cat Purrs 

Cats use their purrs to communicate, so it’s important to read your cat’s body language and other context clues of the situation to determine what exactly your pet is communicating, whether they may be in pain or just looking for an extra snack. Understanding what your cat is trying to communicate will even help you increase your bond, which means that you and your cat will both benefit from the healing powers of their frequent happy purring!