Why do cats purr when you pet them?

While we usually think it’s a sign of approval, that’s not always the case.

In fact, sometimes it’s actually a warning or signal that your cat is unhappy.

Read on for all the potential meanings behind your kitty’s purr.

READ MORE: Cat Sleeping on Feet: Why Do Cats Like it?

Why Do Cats Purr When You  Pet Them?

Cats use a lot of body language in order to convey what they want to say to their humans.

It is often asked, “Why do cats like to rub against their humans” or “Why do cats like sleeping on the feet of their humans?“.

cat being stroked by her owner but why do cats purr when you pet them?

These, along with purring, are part of your furry friend’s body language.

Conventional wisdom often dictates that purring is a sign of satisfaction on the part of your feline friend.

But is that true, or is it actually one of many warning signs that are part of your pet’s body language to show you that something is wrong? Let’s explore.

#1 A purring cat is a happy cat

Yes, often, your cat is purring out of sheer joy, so let’s start with that!

a cute tiger cat purring but why do cats purr when you pet them?

When we stroke our feline friends in any of their sweet spots, such as the cheeks and under the chin, it stimulates the facial glands, resulting in a pleasant sensation.  

Accompanying the purrs is additional body language such as your cat lying on his back or your cat closing his eyes.

These are all signs of affectionate behavior from your cat to show you that he is completely relaxed and is in a very happy mood.

#2 Your cat is overwhelmed

happy cat being petted

As I mentioned earlier, not all purring is a sign of joy. In fact, it could be a sign that you’re stressing out your cat.

Your feline friend may be feeling a bit unsocial at the moment. Or perhaps even just be an aloof cat with a tendency to be sensitive to touch as well.

If you start to notice a change in the way he purrs (maybe something that is closer to a hiss), as well as any change in his body language, this may be a sign of overstimulation on his part.

While it is okay for you to touch and stroke your kitty, be aware that for him, there may be such a thing as a limit so make sure you don’t overdo it.

There are times though when a cat purrs even without you touching him.

#3 A result of normal brain function

cat looking at the top of his head

Cat experts say that one of the reasons why cats purr when you pet them is because it is supposed to be part of their normal brain function.

The brain of an adult cat sends signals to its voice box, which contains laryngeal muscles,  whenever a cat breathes.

The signals received by the voice box cause the vocal cords of the cat to separate and vibrate, pretty much like the strings of a guitar.

These vibrations lead to the low-pitched sounds that are the cat’s purr.

#4 A sign of affection to show you that he needs something from you

a large grey cat with beautiful orange eyes

Your cat’s affectionate behavior and purring may actually be him telling you that he needs something.

It’s his way of convincing you to give in to his request.

Whether it’s food, his favorite toy, or attention, your feline friend will let you know by continuously purring and rubbing against you so that you eventually drop your guard and give in to him.

#5 A call for help

a crying kitten covered by a knitted blanket

A purr from your cat isn’t always a sign that your furry friend is in a good mood. There may be times when your cat’s purr may not sound like his normal purr.

In this case, his purr may actually be a sign of stress or anxiety. Any other new pets in the house? A new family member?

Your cat may be an asocial animal that takes time to get used to any new setting.

Purring, in this case, helps alleviate elevated stress levels in your cat to help him breathe better and relax.

Related: Why Do Cats Like Rub Against Your Legs?

#6 It’s all part of healing!

relaxed cat on top of a shelf

Yes! You read that right! A cat’s purr can amazingly be part of a healing process.

The frequency of a cat’s purr, which comes from the vibration of vocal cords, has healing properties.

The healing power of your cat’s purr can trigger bone regeneration that can lead to bone healing during injury.

It can also help repair tendons, as well as promote muscle growth needed for movement.

Animal experts believe that purring helps your pet maintain his normal body temperature and blood pressure as well.

#7 Mother-child bond

A mother cat, just like its human counterpart, needs to bond with its child.

Call it the kitten-mother connection, which is quite similar to the connection between a human mother and her newborn.

newborn kittens hugging each other

Newborn kittens are normally blind and deaf during the first few days.

Purring from both the mother cat and the kitten is a sign of affection as well as communication between the two.

FAQs

Why does my cat purr every time I touch him?

a cute tiger cat purring but why do cats purr when you pet them?

Your cat purrs whenever you touch him to show you that he is relaxed, contented, and happy with the attention that you are giving him. It means that you were able to find his sweet spot so that he is now able to relax.

Why do cats purr when being stroked?

This really depends on the situation. Oftentimes, a cat purrs when being stroked because it is relaxed and in a good mood. In certain instances though, a different purring sound may mean that your cat is getting irritated due to overstimulation in the area where you’re stroking him.

What does it mean when a cat is purring?

This may be one of several things. Purring, more often than not, is a sign that your cat is relaxed and in a good mood. However, purring may be a sign of stress and anxiety in your cat as well. Purring may also be part of a healing process in a cat that is recovering from injury.
In the case of a newborn kitten, it may also be a form of communication between the mother and the newborn.

Final Words

Knowing what it means when a cat is purring is important to know how to talk to and respond to them when needed.

Communication, after all, is important in order for you to form that special between you and your furry friend.

Just make sure though that you do not overstimulate your cat. Cats can be pretty sensitive to touch.

Be aware of the difference between a normal purr and a hiss. A sound nearing a hiss may be a sign of overstimulation on the part of your cat.

References

  • Fields, Lisa. 2015. “Why Do Cats Purr?” WebMD. WebMD. February 23, 2015. https://pets.webmd.com/cats/why-do-cats-purr.
  • https://www.facebook.com/thediscerningcat. 2021. “Why Do Cats Purr When You Stroke Them? 6 Reasons You Need to Know.” The Discerning Cat. January 9, 2021. https://thediscerningcat.com/why-do-cats-purr-when-you-stroke-them/.
  • PetMD Editorial. 2016. “Cat Behavior: Why Do Cats Rub against You?” Petmd.com. PetMD. April 14, 2016. https://www.petmd.com/cat/behavior/cat-behavior-why-do-cats-rub-against-you.
  • “Why Do Cats Purr?” 2006. Scientific American. April 3, 2006. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-cats-purr/.
lady petting his cat

For you, why do cats purr when petted? What’s your experience with your cat’s purring? Please share with us below!

Andreea Juganaru
Andreea Juganaru

Andreea is a very passionate content creator and her purpose is to provide you with the most interesting articles, while constantly discovering new facts. She’s been freelance writing for the past five years and has created numerous articles and educational materials while managing her own business.