When cat purrs, what does it mean?

All animals have an innate repertoire of behaviours that make it easier for them to communicate with individuals of the same and other species. The most characteristic behaviour of a cat is undoubtedly purring. How and why does your cat purr? How does purring affect your cat’s health?

Verbal communication is widespread among animals. One of the examples of strong, although very subtle, messages is the purring of the cat. Many caregivers of these animals even claim that purring is one of the reasons why they decided to have a cat.

Understand the purring of the cat

In recent years, a number of serious research centres have conducted research into the beneficial effects of the presence of cats on the human body. One of the positive factors is the cat’s purring which, although so common in our pets, is often misinterpreted. What is the meaning of cat purring and how it occurs?

Although research into cat purring has been going on for decades, there is still no single consensus theory on how this characteristic sound is produced. The most popular thesis is that purring is caused by a group of special muscles that make the cat’s vocal cords vibrate. The theory of laryngeal and diaphragm muscle spasms is equally popular.

However, we can be sure that cats purr both when inhaling and when exhaling. They can also combine purring with other sounds such as growling and meowing. Another certainty is the fact that vibrations are produced at frequencies between 25 and 150 Hz, which are largely responsible for the healing effect of the cat’s purring.

Why do cats purr?

As you know, any behavior must have a purpose. Therefore, it seems logical to ask: why do cats purr? Most caregivers of these four-legged cats will probably say that cats express satisfaction, attachment or love in this way, e.g. to the owner. But is this really the evolutionary function of this behaviour? And if so, only that?

Cat’s purring is a sound that can be heard only at a short distance. An additional element of it are vibrations, which are perceived only in direct contact. Adult cats, especially those living in the wild, rarely stay close to other cats apart from copulation. Hence the assumption that purring has evolved in order for the kittens to communicate with their mother and vice versa.

The purring of a young and adult cat

The ability to purr appears as early as the first week of a cat’s life. The vibrations that occur when the mother purrs are the signal that kittens can easily perceive and pass on to the cat. Kittens purr during milk sucking, so they will let you know about their satisfaction, as well as “ask” their mother not to move and not to stop breastfeeding. What is important is that in such a situation the kitten usually repeats her purring.

It is therefore assumed that adult cats purr in the presence of carers, combining this with meowing (the so-called urgent purr). This happens when they are hungry or require contact with the caregiver. Research has also shown that cats purr even in situations where there are no carers. This can sometimes be interpreted as loneliness.

It would seem that the purring of the cat is a very clear message: “Do something for me, be with me or help me. However, it is worth remembering that cats purr not only when they enjoy and are satisfied. Cats also purr when they suffer and are in pain – interestingly enough, even dying cats often do so. In such a situation it is a kind of a cry for help or even the presence of a second being.

Influence of cat’s purr on health

Many scientists have confirmed the beneficial effects of cat’s purring on health. Among the effects of purring a cat are, among others, mentioned:

faster wound healing,
fracture build-up,
improving immunity,
pain relief,
a lot of other things.

Interestingly, it is possible that the ability to purr has influenced the survival of this species. Cats use purring not only to communicate with the world and inform it about their needs. Their own purring during illness or when the cat is injured and suffering, improves the cat’s mood. This sound is like convincing yourself that everything is going to be all right – it’s a kind of self-healing.

The beneficial influence of the vibrations that arise during purring influences its creator, but not only. Veterinarians often see a much faster recovery from accidents or surgeries in cats than in dogs. It is worth noting, however, that convalescence can be equally rapid in the case of dogs, which at the time of illness were in the company of the cat.

Lazy tabby cat lying on beige furniture

Do all cats purr?

Interestingly, not all cats can purr. So-called big cats such as lions and tigers do not show this ability. Instead of a two-phase purring characteristic of small cats (purring during inhalation and exhalation), large cats produce a one-phase purring combined with a slight bubbling. This is due to the anatomical differences that allow them to make this sound only during exhalation. Our home kittens can’t roar instead :).

The ambiguous purr of a cat

To sum up, the purring of the cat is certainly not unambiguous. Purring is not only a sign of satisfaction but also of fear, pain, and suffering. Rather, it is a signal that indicates that the sender wants contact, closeness or cries for help. When sitting on our knees, a stroking cat purrs, it probably tries to tell us: “don’t stop and don’t move”. Of course, in this context, purring indicates that the cat is good and pleasant. It is important to remember, however, that when interpreting the behavior of our cats, we should not forget the context. The purring of the purr is uneven.

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