Why Do Cats Purr?

Cats purr for some surprising reasons. It’s not always when they’re happy or content! Cats purr more than they meow, growl, chirp, or make any other sound that we love them for. Cats purr for a number of reasons, and this article will discuss the latest thinking about causes of purring.

So why do cats purr? The most obvious reason cats purr because they’re happy and content. When your kitty is feeling extraordinarily connected to you, or feeling comfy, about to sleep, or just generally getting that “I’m safe and happy” feeling, their purr motor will kick in. Your cat will also purr when she’s simply calm, as when she’s lying in a favorite spot — you can put a hand on her back and feel a very subtle, gentle purring. It’s as if it’s not meant for you or anyone else — just a kitty-subconscious expression of peace.

Why Do Cats Purr?

The ‘Are You My Mommy?’ Purr

Anyone with cats knows intuitively that they’re still deeply and profoundly connected to the experience of being “babied’ by their mother. This is why they “make the biscuits,” one lovely term for their habit of kneading a blanket, rug, or your belly with half-extended claws: as kittens, that’s how they stimulated their mother’s milk glands to get lunch started. Purring is no different, and has been shown to be related to communication between kitten and mother. What are they saying? No one knows for sure, of course, but we can be pretty sure that the “mommy purr” is a sign that they view you as a mommy figure. But you probably already knew that!
Mother cats, by the way, purr back to their kittens, as something like a bedtime or nursing song.

The ‘I’m Hurt’ Purr

Strange as it sounds, cats may also purr when they’re injured or in pain. The easy assumption is that they’re reassuring themselves that everything’s going to be okay. But in the animal world, that’s not really a solid enough reason for behavior like that in a wounded animal — so researchers have suggested that the sound of the purr actually has a regenerative or healing effect on the animal.

What you may not have realized yet is that cats may also purr when they’re nervous or unsettled. Some research suggests that she purrs at times like these to reassure herself — to hear the “voice” of another kitty, even if it’s coming from her. Our kitties often purr when a stranger picks them up or sits with them — even though they’re hardly content or feeling safe. It may be a mode of communication, since one truth about cats is that they assume every being around them, including you, is another cat.

The ‘I’m Hungry!’ Purr

Some evidence exists to suggest that cats may purr to express hunger. At least one pet site reports that British researchers compared the purr-sounds of cats under different situations, and detected a variety of “different purrs” that could correspond to different states of mind or needs. I can believe this, because our four kitties make all kinds of subtly different sounds — like a language of their own. It makes sense that purrs should have their own kind of language as well.

Purring Isn’t as Simple as it Sounds

No matter the reason, one of the loveliest and most calming sounds a human can experience is the contented purr of their kitty asleep on their lap. It’s a nice message: “I’m happy, you’re happy, and everything is right with the world.”