If you have a cat, you may find yourself asking, why do cats purr? Many people see their cat purring as a sign that their cat is happy or content, like when they are curled up in your lap on the couch. Purrs are like little vibrations that seem to fluctuate perfectly along with your cat’s positive feelings. So, why do cats purr, and what exactly is your cat doing when it purrs?
Some people often wonder if purring is a form of conscious communication on the part of a cat. Like other vocalizations such as a “meow“, some might imagine purring is simply a way that your cat is telling you that it’s happy. But do cats really have control over their purring? Why do cats purr? And how come they do it in some situations where they obviously aren’t happy, such as when they’re in pain, nervous, or hungry?
The truth is that purring is largely still a mystery to humans. We don’t know exactly how or why cats purr, not for sure, anyway. Let’s take a closer look at what we do know about what purring is, why your cat might do it, what it might mean, and some of the benefits that purring might have. We will attempt to answer once and for all the age-old question, “why do cats purr?”
How Does a Cat Purr?
There is no total consensus on what exactly the physical mechanism is that allows cats to purr, but there are certainly some theories that have held more traction over the years than others. Most people agree that when cats purr it is most likely caused by air passing through the larynx as it rapidly dilates and constricts. The air passes through smoothly and consistently as the cat inhales and exhales, leading to the steady sound that we call purring. For a time, it was scientifically believed that cat purring was caused by blood rapidly rushing through the thorax of the feline, but, as more research was done, this theory lost traction and was seemingly disproved.
Why Do Cats Purr?
While purring is commonly attributed to a cat being happy, this isn’t always the case, and, like many aspects of purring, the answer to the question “why do cats purr?” remains somewhat of an inconclusive mystery.
Cats definitely do seem to purr when they are happy, such as when they are in their owner’s lap, being pet and receiving affection, but they also purr sometimes when they are sick and in pain. Some scientists posit the belief that the low frequency of a purr is a natural healing mechanism that occurs when a cat is in need, but then why do they purr when they are happy?
Another strange aspect of purring that convolutes attempts at a conclusive understanding is that cats sometimes purr when they are hungry. As well, it is found that this purring has a slightly different, lower, and growlier sound that is often mixed in with other vocalizations, such as “meows” and “mews”. Why do cats purr in this instance? Is it to get attention?
Surely, the “meows” are enough, they are much louder and much more to the point. If purring is voluntary, why do cats purr in this instance? Some scientists posit that it is for sympathy, in an effort strike pity in their masters so they can get food, but this has no backing or scientific proof, it is merely conjecture.
One final aspect that many scientists find curious is when and how cats purr to their mothers. Kittens begin purring at just a few days old, and will often do so in connection with their mothers, just as they do with us. Some feel that this is some kind of bonding mechanism that connects the kitten to the mother in some way. As well, mother cats are often observed purring as their kittens during sleep, almost as if they are singing them to sleep with a song. Any way you look at it, purring seems to have a variety of causes, so the answer to “why do cats purr?” can’t be definitively given.
Can Cats Control If They Purr?
No one knows for sure, but evidence seems to suggest that purring is an involuntary phenomenon that happens outside of a cat’s control. If they were to be doing it on their own, it seems like an incredibly difficult motion to control, especially for kittens as young as a few days who seem to have the act down pat. Some people do believe cats can purr on command, though, believing it to be some kind of conscious response to outside stimuli.
Is Purring Healthy?
One of the most common theories about purring is that, whether voluntary or involuntary, it is a mechanism for healing. Some research has been done that gives traction to a theory that the low-frequency sounds of a cat purr can promote wounds and tender bones to heal themselves, can help build muscle and allow damaged tendons to fix themselves, can allow cats to breathe better, and can alleviate swelling and pain.
This could possibly be what gives cats those extra nine lives! As well, possibly, when a cat purrs as you are petting them they are rewarding you for your attention by sharing some of their magical healing powers with you! This could also align with cats purring in times of stress or when they need food, as the purring works to soothe them and also to prepare their bodies for any necessary flight-or-fight response they might need to make. Perhaps, in this way, we can look at purring as some kind of literal “charging” mechanism and we can say that the answer to the question “why do cats purr?” is to refuel.
So, while it’s difficult to answer the question “why do cats purr?” conclusively, there seems to be evidence that suggests that they do it as a way to recharge themselves, either during periods of rest or duress.