Why Do Cats Purr and What Does It Mean?
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Why Do Cats Purr and What Does It Mean?

Cats are enigmatic creatures, their behaviors often sparking curiosity and intrigue among us, their devoted human companions. One of the most endearing and distinctive sounds a cat can make is the purr. But why do cats purr, and what are they trying to communicate? Let’s delve into the soothing world of cat purrs and unravel some of the mysteries behind this captivating feline behavior.

The Mechanics of Purring

Firstly, it’s fascinating to look at how cats purr. The purring sound originates from a series of rapid, rhythmic contractions of the laryngeal muscles, combined with the movement of the diaphragm. These contractions happen during both inhalation and exhalation, which is why a purr has a consistent, uninterrupted quality.

The Many Meanings of Purring

Contentment and Pleasure

The most common interpretation of a cat’s purr is a sign of contentment. When your cat is curled up in the sunlight or snuggling on your lap, the gentle rumble you hear is often associated with their state of relaxation and happiness.

Healing and Comfort

Interestingly, purring isn’t always a sign that a cat is in a good mood. It’s also a self-soothing mechanism. The frequency of a cat’s purr, between 25 and 150 Hertz, is associated with therapeutic healing. This range can promote bone density and healing, reduce pain and swelling, and even act as a form of relief for the cat when it’s anxious, sick, or recovering from injury.

Mother and Kitten Communication

The purring starts early in a cat’s life. Kittens can purr when they’re only a few days old, and it’s believed to be a way for them to communicate with their mother, signaling that they are okay and that all is well. This is crucial when they are blind and deaf in their neonatal stage and rely on vibration to navigate their world.

Hunger or Wanting Something

A study by researchers at the University of Sussex found that cats have a special type of purr, known as a “solicitation purr,” which they use when they want to be fed. This purr has a high-frequency ‘cry’ within it, somewhat akin to a human baby’s cry, which is difficult for humans to ignore.

Stress, Discomfort, and Self-Comfort

Contrary to popular belief, cats also purr when they’re stressed, in pain, or even when they’re near death. The soothing, meditative act of purring is a source of self-comfort and can help the cat to calm down or self-soothe in stressful situations.

How Can Humans Interpret Cat Purring?

To understand the context of your cat’s purr, observe their body language and environment. A cat sprawled comfortably in a favorite spot, with soft eyes and a relaxed body, is likely purring from contentment. Conversely, a cat in a new or stressful environment, or one that’s recovering from an injury, may purr to comfort themselves.

The Benefits of Purring for Humans

It’s not just cats that benefit from purring. The act of petting a purring cat can have a calming and therapeutic effect on humans as well. The gentle vibrations can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and even help heal infections and swelling in humans.


The purr of a cat is a multifaceted expression. It can signify happiness, a desire for attention or food, or it can be a mechanism for self-healing and comfort in times of stress or pain. For us cat lovers, the purr remains one of the most comforting and familiar sounds, a signal that our feline friends are close and engaged with us. So next time you hear your cat purring, take a moment to appreciate this unique and multifunctional aspect of cat behavior, and enjoy the soothing effects it has on both you and your furry companion.

Remember, every cat is an individual, and their purring can mean different things at different times. By paying close attention to your cat’s behavior and body language, you can learn to understand better what they might be trying to communicate. Now, isn’t that just purr-fect?

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