why do cats purr

What Does It Mean When My Cat Purrs?

by Janine DeVault - 9/9/19

It’s well known that cats purr when happy, but did you know they also purr for other reasons? A cat’s purr is much more complex than you may realize. It’s a powerful communication technique. In fact, cats have a whole range of sounds that they employ solely to communicate with their human companions. Not only is it important to know this, but it’s also essential to learn other cat communication signals to put your feline friend’s purr in context. Read on to discover the different reasons why cats purr. By the end, you’re sure to understand your feline friend on a whole new level.

He Is Happy

The most commonly accepted reason why cats purr is because they are happy. But there are nuances to consider here. An overtly happy cat will rub his head against you as he purrs to really drive the message home. A casually contented cat will simply curl up on your lap and vibrate happily.

She Is Stressed or Scared

Cats are also known to purr when stressed or scared. In these instances, purring helps cats to self-soothe. The consistent vibration of the purring is thought to have calming effects on felines. Pay special attention to your cat when he’s in situations that could be stressful. So, if you notice your kitty purring during your next trip to the vet, don’t assume he’s happy to be there. Does he purr when you trim his claws? What about during thunderstorms? Be sure to offer him comfort and reassurance if you sense that he’s stressed.

He Is Healing

Perhaps one of the most interesting hypotheses about cat purring is that the purrs may have healing effects. Researchers have measured the frequency of purr vibrations, and they fall within a range that is believed to assist in bone growth and tissue regeneration. While more research is needed on this question, it’s fascinating to think that cats may be able to help heal themselves in this way. If your cat is purring but doesn’t seem to exhibit any other indications of happiness, perhaps he’s attempting to heal himself!

He Wants Something from You

Researchers have also determined that in some cases cats modify their purrs to sound almost like a cry, perhaps intended to encourage humans to nurture or feed them. Your cat likely employs this type of purr when he’s hungry or wants you to open the door.

How Can I Tell the Difference?

Just as humans can shout both when angry or excited, cats can purr for many different reasons. As with any other form of communication, context is important when it comes to determining its meaning. Are you holding a can of tuna? Your cat’s purr is likely saying “gimme some of that,” whereas a purr in the midst of a thunderstorm may be your cat’s attempt to calm himself.

Of course, no two cats are alike, and purrs may be employed slightly differently by various cats. Researchers are still working to learn more about why cats purr, and there are sure to be many fascinating revelations in the future.

Janine DeVault is a pet writer, animal rescue advocate and former celebrity dog walker. She lives in Mexico with her three rescue pets, Maia, Fozzy, and Kesi.