Have you ever wondered why your cats purr? We often think of cats purring when they’re content and happy, but there are actually several different reasons and situations when cats purr. So to bring you all the cat-based answers, we’re investigating why cats purr - and when!
Why cats purr: they’re content
Most cat owners can tell you that their cats will purr when they’re curled up next to you and getting lots of attention. If this is the case, you can be pretty sure that your cat is purring because they’re happy and feel safe with you!
It might also mean that they want you to carry on giving them attention—typical. But this isn’t the only situation when cats purr, so let’s explore further…
Why cats purr: they want food
Cats first start purring at only 2 days old, to help their mothers find them when it’s feeding time—so it has a very practical use. Kittens are born deaf and blind, so purring serves another useful purpose too: the vibrations of their mother’s purr lets them know where she is!
Purring when it’s time to be fed is a behaviour that cats may continue into adulthood. Scientists have found that this type of dinner-time purring contains a little high-pitched cry, which sets it apart from normal purrs of contentment and is called “solicitation purring”. It’s designed to get a response from us humans, and it’s a sound that’s a bit like a baby’s cry, which humans naturally want to respond to. Which confirms our suspicions that cats are basically tiny geniuses.
Why cats purr: they might be hurt
If you were impressed by solicitation purring, then prepare to be really amazed. It’s believed that the vibrations of a cat’s purr have healing qualities. The frequency of their purring is thought to be able to encourage healing of bone and tissue, and help relieve pain—but it’s definitely not a substitute for an appointment with the vet!
It’s also thought that purring releases endorphins that can calm them, so stressed cats may purr to try and soothe themselves.
How cats purr
So now we know some of the reasons why cats purr, but how do they actually make those cute purring noises? This is something that remained a mystery to scientists for a long time, but we now know that a cat’s purr comes from its voice box. The exact scientific explanation is pretty complex, but a purr is basically the result of air vibrating over the muscles around a cat’s voice box.
And here’s some fun cat trivia for you: only domestic cats and some types of wild cat can purr. Big cats, like lions and tigers, can roar but they can’t purr. They have different larynxes, which means that cats that can purr can’t roar, and cats that can roar can’t purr!