Why do cats purr?

The mystery surrounding why cats purr has fascinated pet owners for many years. There is no definitive answer as to why cats purr, but there are a few theories that have been suggested.

The effect on humans is usually soothing, but one thing is clear – cats don’t always purr because they’re happy.

The purr of domestic cats is unique, although other felids like bobcats, cheetahs, and pumas also purr. Kittens learn to purr within their first few days of life, even before they open their eyes, and a mother often purrs while delivering her babies. Cats also purr when they are hurting, scared, or close to dying.

We most often associate purring with contentment, but it could be more generally associated as a signal for a number of things. Such as: 

* A mother and her babies purr to communicate their location, since kittens are born blind. Purring also helps mom and baby bonding. It appears that purring helps kittens settle, just as a lullaby would for a human baby.

* A cat also purrs when nervous, it is thought to be a way of comforting themselves, much like we would sing or hum to ourselves when anxious.

* We’re all familiar with the cat that purrs and rubs around our feet when they’re hungry. It appears that the sound of a hungry purr isn’t the same as the purr made at other times.

* Cats that are sick or dying also purr. Purring is thought to release endorphins in cats so this can make them feel better.


As far as how a cat purrs, it appears that the laryngeal muscles and the larynx act on a neural impulse, or oscillator, from the brain. A cat’s purr is interesting in that it continues throughout the full respiratory cycle. A cat continues to purr while they are breathing in and out. Unlike a “meow,” which is more akin to speaking, a purr seems to have a continuing rhythm all its own until a cat decides to turn it off.

If a cat has a diseased larynx, they will produce a different sound and may have trouble swallowing and breathing properly, causing them to gag. They also sometimes develop nerve damage that paralyzes the larynx or a tumor or polyp that restricts the airway. In these cases, the change in purr should encourage their owner to make a veterinary appointment to evaluate the problem.

Regardless of the reasons why cats purr, it is interesting to know that the act of purring covers a wide range of emotions in cats. Next time your cat is purring, see if you can work out why, and try to identify any subtle changes in their tone at different times.

Article courtesy  Dr Rosie Brown BVSc (Hons)


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A cat's purr is soothing to human's ears, and it is relaxing.  Below is an compilation of cats purring - close your eyes and listen, see if it soothes you.


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