Explained: Why Do Cats Purr?

While growing up, many of us are taught that a cat purring is a positive response to being cuddled and stroked. But did you know a cat can also purr when scared or in pain? 

So how come a cat purrs? And why do they do it? This article will explain exactly why a cat purrs and may help you communicate with your cat more easily. 

Why Do Cats Purr?

When a kitten is born, they begin to purr to make their mothers aware of their presence as they are born deaf and blind. It also helps to gain attention when they are hungry. 

This continues throughout a cat’s life and can even happen during a time of stress or injury. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why cats purr. 


You may notice your cat starts to purr whenever you are cuddled up together. This symbolizes happiness, and if your cat is relaxed with eyes half-closed, it generally means they are in a pleasant mood. 

Pain Relief

You may also notice your cat purr when she is in labor. A cat’s purr serves as a form of pain relief.  

A 2001 study based on 44 felids, including domestic cats, pumas, cheetahs, and ocelots, showed that purring at certain frequencies (between 25 to 150 hertz) helped stimulate healing in bones, tendons, joints, and wounds. 


Your cat may rub up against your legs, purring and ‘mewing’ at mealtimes. This is to let you know they are hungry and are expecting a tasty dish of food any time soon. 

You will know the difference between your cats ‘meows’, especially at mealtimes. Hungry ‘mews’ mimic the sound of a baby’s cry, and they know we are more likely to respond to this high-pitched (and slightly annoying) sound. 

Connection with Their Mothers

When a kitten is first born, they are able to locate the mother as she purrs to lead them to her for milk. The mother also uses purring as a kind of lullaby to soothe her kittens which might explain why they purr when most relaxed. 

To Comfort Themselves 

Cats often purr when in stressful situations such as a visit to the vets or if they are frightened. It is thought that purring works as comfort, which helps them calm down when they feel anxious. 

A Peace Signal 

If you have ever come across a friendly cat while walking down a street, you will notice that it starts to purr almost immediately. This is a cat’s way of telling you they don’t want any trouble and that it is ok to stroke them. This also happens when older cats approach kittens to let them know they aren’t a threat.

How Do Cats Purr?

When a cat purrs, signals are sent to the voice box and the diaphragm to expand its chest when breathing. As a result, the vocal cords begin to vibrate, and as the cat breathes, the air bounces off the cords, creating a purring sound. 

The sound of purring may seem continuous, and this is because it happens during both inhalation and exhalation. 

Why is My Cat Purring? 

As discussed above, there are many reasons as to why your cat could be purring. You will know your cat better than anyone else, so taking a look at the situation your cat is in will be a good indicator as to why they are purring. 

For example, if your cat is lying on its back purring while you stroke its tummy, the chances are that it is probably quite content. However, if your cat is purring but acting strange, then it may be in pain.

If you are worried about your cat, taking it to the vet will help resolve the problem. It should also be noted that cats purr when frightened, so being at the vet’s is bound to emphasize their purring. 

Do All Cats Purr?

All domestic cats purr, but larger cats such as lions and tigers do not have the same genetic make-up, so instead of purring, they roar. 

Other large cats such as pumas, lynxes, cheetahs, and bobcats are unable to roar and purr instead. 

The reason for this is down to survival needs. Lions and tigers have the ability to roar to ward off predators and mark their territory. Cheetahs and pumas quietly hunt for food and generally don’t need to warn predators away which is why they have evolved without a roar. 

To Summarize

Cats are extremely intelligent creatures and purr to communicate how they feel to other animals and humans. 

Apart from feelings of contentment, purring may also mean your cat is frightened or in pain. We hope this article will be helpful when deciphering your cat’s purr.

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