Last Updated: 3 months ago
A cat’s purr is an unanswered question that makes us wonder why our felines purr all the time.
Cats create a wide range of vocal sounds. Among them, the purr stands out.
Cats like to purr—we all know that! Even some large cats purr, like mountain lions (but no “big cats”, unfortunately).
When we hear a cat purring, our hearts often melt into a puddle, and we can’t help but “awwww” for at least a couple of minutes.
There has been a lot of research done to explain this body language, and what has been discovered is genuinely unique.
10 Reasons Why Do Cats Purr
Cats are mysterious creatures, and that will probably always be true. However, we can still do our best to try and understand why they do what they do.
It’s probably important to note that there is more than one kind of purr. The differences between purrs are minimal and might not even be noticed by most people!
However, if you can listen closely and see if you can distinguish between purrs, you can learn a lot about your cat.
Let’s start with the main reasons why do cats purr.
1. Your Cat is Happy
Probably the most well-known reason for a purring cat is happiness! You can expect a happy and relaxed cat to purr when they’re lying on you or even just in your presence.
Some cats like to purr when they are on top of or beside their favorite human or even other pets they like.
Prolonged purring is likely to happen if a cat is in a relaxed and friendly environment where they are completely comfortable.
If this includes you and your other pets, that’s great! It can take a while for cats to become comfortable with people, especially if they are rescue animals.
According to the Journal of Zoology, purring is “produced mostly by juveniles but also by adults in positive contexts (relaxed, friendly), such as nursing or sucking, mutual grooming, courtship, or a friendly approach.”
It’s common for cats that have a bond to constantly purr around each other.
This purring might feel like it never ends! However, since we don’t know if a cat is purring when we leave the room, we can never be sure of anything.
If your cat always purrs around you, though, you can take it that they are purring because of you and your wonderful company (or petting skills).
2. They Need or Want Your Attention
We mentioned earlier that there are different kinds of purrs. Well, if your cat wants or needs your attention, you may notice a high-pitched note in the purr.
It can be difficult to notice, so you need to pay special attention to your cat if you want to be able to distinguish it from other pets!
This purr is called the “solicitation purr.” Researchers have found that this sound is used when cats want something from their caregiver.
This can be anything from attention to food to playtime. The sound is used to elicit a caregiving response from us, which is why it basically always works!
They are masters of manipulation, and they know it. Constant purring could be a sign that your cat is asking you for various things without you realizing it.
Sometimes their purrs aren’t to show their affection for you, but it’s them asking you for something.
According to researchers, cats have been known to exaggerate aspects of their purring when they find it useful.
In these cases, a barely noticeable high-pitch sound may become more obvious in order for them to get what they want.
As such, you should remember that cats are smart enough to use their purrs as a weapon to achieve their lofty goals.
It might be cute, but there can be hidden meanings within a poem that most of us are too busy to notice or understand.
3. Your Cat is Stressed
Strangely enough, stress is also a possibility for constant purring. But purring means they’re happy! We know it can be very confusing.
When you’re anxious, you might find yourself fidgeting, biting your nails, or pacing as a coping mechanism. When cats feel anxious about something, they may purr as a way to self-soothe and cope.
The thing is, cats are finicky creatures. The smallest thing can stress them out and make them feel anxious.
If you notice that your feline friend has been purring nonstop, you should try to figure out if you’ve made any changes lately.
Maybe you moved an object in the house or changed your routine and habits—that could make your cat anxious! They are creatures of habit and like things to stay just as they are.
It would be expected for a cat to purr as a form of self-soothing after moving house, getting another pet, or losing someone in the family.
If you are aware of these things, then your cat might just need a little time to get back into the rhythm of life.
Since distinguishing between a happy and an anxious person isn’t easy, there are other things you can take into consideration.
If you suspect that they might be anxious people, look for other signs that point to this. For example, if your cat seems to be withdrawing from their regular activities and behaviors or is skipping meals, they could be anxious.
Other things to look out for may include changes to their coat or general appearance, or any other behavioral and diet-related changes.
Sometimes a trip to the vet might be needed, but the issue can usually be found in the environment if you know what to look for.
Be patient with them and try to be as understanding as possible. They should bounce back in time, but it may take a while, depending on what the issue really is.
4. They Are in Pain
Research has shown that this constant purring actually has healing properties, which can help cats physically get better at a faster rate.
It sounds like magic, right? In reality, it’s just science! Cats generate frequencies between 24-150 Hz. They can also produce strong, dominant, or fundamental frequencies at precisely 25 Hz and 50 Hz.
Why is that important? Both of these frequencies actually “correspond to vibrational/electrical frequencies used in treatment for bone growth/fractures, pain, edema, muscle growth/strain, joint flexibility, dyspnea, and wounds.”
So, if your cat wasn’t purring a lot before but does now, it could be because of this! You should make a point to check on their wellbeing and see if they have any injuries or illnesses that you should be aware of.
A trip to the vet might be in order if you want a reliable diagnosis. At home, you can see if there are any signs of limping, especially if they go outside a lot.
You should also check their litter box to see if their feces are normal. Any signs of diarrhea or constipation could be a cause for concern. Be on the lookout for any signs of lethargy in day-to-day life, too.
Pay attention to your cat’s overall happiness and well-being. Purring can be something to love and cherish, but it could also be a sign that your pet is experiencing an issue and needs help.
Sometimes the best thing to do is just go to the vet and get them checked out to be safe. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and it would make you feel less worried about the whole situation.
5. Healing from an Injury
Elizabeth Von Muggenthaler et al. suggest in a 2001 study published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America that cats purr whenever they need to heal from an injury.
It adds that the purr frequency changes from the usual purr, which cats are used to doing, depending on the injury obtained.
Muggenthaller further elaborates that the purring frequency works well, especially in bone repair and pain control.
Low-frequency purring may help build injured muscles in cats, and it may help repair tendons during injury. Call a cat purr as some built-in physical therapy.
Cat purring also helps in wound repair. This may explain why cats experience fewer complications after surgeries compared to dogs.
Cats purr to soothe themselves during times when they feel discomfort and unease.
They are their psychologists and therapists. At least they don’t need to pay hourly rates whenever some inner struggle and trouble arise.
6. They Need Something
Cats are considered human babies.
In the study, the team notes that cats affect their humans by purring to attract their attention and “appeal to their compassion” whenever they need something, especially food.
This group of researchers further describes this as a “cry within a purr,” a combination of a cry-like, high-pitched sound and a usual purr.
They noted that even humans who had no experience with cats were moved to give them food after hearing these solicitations.
Around dinner time, cats may purr close to their dinner bowl.
Yet, removing the high-pitched background purrs while returning them to normal purring sounds did not elicit the same response from humans.
So, yes! Your feline friend is brilliant in this way. They know!
7. A Bonding Form
Kittens need to communicate with their moms at birth, and this is where the use of purring kicks in.
Kittens learn to purr as early as a week old. Kittens purr while their mothers nurse them to signal that the milk nursing mothers provide sufficiently for them.
This serves to reassure the mother cat that all is well with her brood.
It’s not only the kittens, though, that purr while the mother nurses them. The mother cat purrs back as a way of reassuring her kittens that both she and they are okay.
Think of this as the cat version of crying in newborn humans.
8. Communicating Amongst Themselves
Purring is a way of showing a sense of familiarity for cats.
When cats purr because of a pleasurable experience with their humans, this means that they are beginning to become familiar with both their humans and their surroundings as well.
Similarly, purring accompanied by body rubbing in cats means that they are getting familiar with other feline companions within their cluster.
Purrs are a form of communication for cats, whether in a setting where they need to talk to their humans or to their fellow cats.
9. The Cats Environment
So, is purring a normal thing for cats in general? Surprisingly, it seems pretty standard for cats—the tame ones.
It seems that through domestication, cats have learned to produce these sounds to adapt to their home environment and communicate with those around them. And yes, that includes humans.
A paper published in the journal Behavioural Processes in 2011 has shown that feral cats do not have a different vocalization range compared to domesticated cats.
This includes purring, which is a behavior not seen in feral cats.
The paper explains that this is probably because socialization is less common in feral cats.
This somehow shows that purring is a behavior learned by domesticated cats through socialization, and the surrounding environment influences this behavior.
10. Call for Help
Not only are cat purrs a form of cat therapy, but they can also be therapeutic for humans too.
A study in 1994 showed that vocal communications between humans and cats can provide emotional comfort to pet humans.
Other studies have also observed a decreased incidence of cardiovascular diseases in human-cat owners compared to non-cat owners.
This may be attributed to the supposed healing properties that cat purrs may have.
Feline-assisted therapy for diseases such as depression (anxiety and fear), arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, ADHD, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, and many more.
Due to this, cats are slowly being used in hospices as part of treatment and care.
How much do you understand about purring itself? This adorable but confusing phenomenon is something that a lot of people take for granted!
However, there is plenty to learn if you want to understand your feline friend a little better.
Where Does it Come From?
The cat, obviously, but where? Learning about your cat’s purring takes time, and you often have to look beyond their body language and behavior.
However, while all that is great, it’s just as important to have a good understanding of how purring actually occurs. According to experts, purring can be compared to blinking.
We can do it on command, but it will also happen naturally one way or another. Cats can purr on command, as we know by now, but they will also purr naturally or automatically.
This sound is made by the diaphragm and larynx working together, along with the all-important hyoid.
The hyoid is a small, rigid bone in a cat’s throat. It works to support the tongue and larynx! As cats breathe, the air hits the larynx muscles, causing them to vibrate.
This will then make the hyoid bone resonate, and we will hear that wonderful purr. It’s like a musical instrument that is actually controlled by the nervous system in your cat.
This might be wonderful or wonderfully boring to know, depending on what interests you. However, if you look at all the cats in the world (big and small), not all of them are able to make this wonderful sound!
The largest purring cat is the mountain lion or cougar, so we can feel special about our own little felines having this ability.
Whether the scientific reason is interesting or not, it’s guaranteed that the sound of purring is something we all love. Let’s just appreciate and love it.
What Causes Kittens to Purr so Much?
The topic of purring will always circle around kittens at some point, right? Purring is most likely the first sound a kitten will ever hear, but it also makes a sound!
A cat in labor will purr to help manage the pain she’s in, so her newborns will hear it from her. When they are just a few days old, they will begin to purr themselves!
It is thought that this purring is mostly done to help strengthen the bond between the kittens and their mother.
It also lets the mother know that her blind babies are nearby and happy. Constant purring is a given when you have a litter of kittens and a mama cat around.
Even when kittens get older, they will still purr for their mother; it’s just natural. Purring will be common, even when kittens get adopted and go home with their new owners.
This purring will probably also be non-stop, but it may not be because they are content. Instead, they could be stressed or anxious about what’s happening.
Being separated from their mother would also cause non-stop purring, as it would be new to them and likely a stressful experience. Like adult cats, kittens will also purr to show us that they are happy.
If they are new to a home, it might take some time for this purring to occur. However, like adult cats, purring can also be a sign of pain or illness.
Look at their overall behavior and determine if this is something to concern yourself with. If it is, take them to the vet for a checkup to make sure all is well.
What Causes Kittens to Purr and Bite at Same Time?
If your kitten purrs and bites you at the same time, it’s probably nothing to worry about.
Cats are predators, remember? There’s a very good chance that your kitten isn’t only biting you, but everything else in sight.
That’s why it is so important to buy them toys; your furniture will get shredded otherwise! With that being said, things are never that straightforward, are they?
Sure, a kitten would exhibit this behavior naturally with their littermates and mama cat, but it could also have other meanings.
This could mean that your kitten is scared and anxious about their new home. This behavior could be a defense because they feel threatened.
The purring and biting behavior could also be because of petting-induced aggression. We all know that cats will get irritated and change their minds in a split second, and kittens are no different.
They can suddenly feel irritated and go to the bite-lick-bite scenario. When this happens, you should teach your kitten to play nicely and not be aggressive toward you.
Once again, toys are a must! However, if they are continuously purring and don’t show signs of any actual aggression, this is a good thing, and you can just spend time together.
Is Constant Purring Something to Worry About?
This all depends on everything we’ve covered in this article!
Purrs can have different meanings, and it’s up to you (and a vet if needed) to determine why they are happening.
If they only seem to do it around you, then you are probably the cause, and they just want to tell you that they love you.
It’s also important to note that purring intensity and volume can vary a lot. Sometimes purring isn’t even noticeable to us.
There is no one answer for anything when it comes to purring, because cats just like to make us work for everything.
The best thing you can do is keep an eye out for any kind of change that happens. Behavioral changes can signify other issues, such as stress or illness, and you will need to take the required steps.
If you can’t shake the feeling, you should just take your pet to the vet for a check-up. They should get regular check-ups anyway, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
What if Your Cat Suddenly Stops Purring?
If you have a cat that usually purrs a lot and has suddenly stopped, it could be a sign of stress, jealousy, or anything else!
Every cat is unique, and you can never know for sure unless you know the cat in question.
A cat could feel neglected if you recently got a new addition to the family, or they could be sick or stressed. Take all behaviors into account.
If you recently got a rescue kitten or cat, they might not purr immediately. This could be a sign that they need time to get comfortable around you.
We know—this sounds like it clashes with everything we said above—but again, every cat is unique!
Some cats are born to be purring machines; others are the silent type.
You just need to get to know the cat you have and determine what is and isn’t normal for them personally.
A purring cat can have many meanings. They could be happy, in pain, stressed, or they just want your attention! While a lot of cats love to purr, others never do.
As always, cats are confusing. All you can do is learn to understand your own cat and make judgments based on that.
Always look out for changes in behavior and make sure your cat is always happy and healthy.
As scientists discover more about this unusual behavior, we might see cats replacing dogs as men’s best friends.
Why do cats purr all the time? Let us know your opinion on this topic below!
Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS is a locum veterinary surgeon who has worked in London for the past 8 years. She graduated top of her class in small animal medicine from UCD, Dublin. She is currently a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Linda is the resident vet for Woman magazine and a frequent contributor to People’s Friend Magazine, the Dogzone website, Vet Help Direct and Wag! Linda also writes content for the CVS veterinary group, Vetwriter and a number of other establishments.