Cats make the strangest noises! Chirps, meows, purrs, and more. While we aren’t sure of the cause for every cat’s noise, we have some theories.
About cat purring
Purring is one of the most common noises a cat owner will encounter. A purr is a low, continuous murmuring sound expressive of contentment or pleasure.
This sounds great! Cats purr because they are content and happy!
But there are lesser-known reasons for a cat to purr.
Our Certified Cat Behaviorist Janet Cutler (PhD) states, “Cats may purr for a variety of reasons. We most often associate it with a cat being happy and content. However, cats can also purr to communicate between cats or with us using something called a ‘solicitation’ purr when they want something. Cats may purr if they are sick or injured, and there is a hypothesis that purring can promote healing; however, we don’t have great evidence for this yet.”
How do cats purr? What makes that purring sound?
Purring is caused by the rapid movement of the voice box muscles combined with the movement of the diaphragm. These move at 20 to 30 times a second. When cats breathe, air touches the vibrating muscles, creating a purr.
What’s more interesting is cats have different purrs. Some are loud, and others are soft. Some cats purr at every opportunity, and others rarely do. Just another reason cats are mysterious creatures—all are unique.
There is one special purr cats use specifically, a combination of a purr and meow. This is a “solicitation purr” when a cat wants to be fed.
Top reasons causing cats to purr all the time?
While the very definition of purring includes happiness and contentment, cats have other reasons to purr. Purring is the most common sound cats make. It’s used for a variety of reasons.
Our Certified Cat Behaviorist at Cat World, Janet Cutler, Ph.D., says, “All cats are different in the amount of time they spend purring. If purring all the time is a new behavior, you should contact your veterinarian,” but “cats often purr if they are contented, so it could be that your cat is often relaxed and happy. Mildly anxious cats can also purr a lot, or if a cat is in pain.”
Here is what makes cats purr!
The most common reasons cats purr include:
- Happiness: The most common reason for a cat to purr is happiness. Cats usually purr in a relaxed environment.
- Hunger: Some cats combine a meow with a purr to do a “solicitation purr.” This is similar to an infant’s cries; it draws people in.
- Attention: The sound of a purr catches our attention. Sometimes, that’s precisely the cat’s intent.
- Kitten-Mother Connection: Purring happens at a few days old. It’s how kittens communicate with their mothers.
- Healing: As a throwback to their time as kittens, cats purr to soothe themselves, like a child with a blanket. It helps them heal, and some cats purr to help heal their owners.
How can you determine why your cat is purring?
- Happiness: You can determine your cat is purring due to happiness by isolating the conditions under which it occurs. If your cat purrs when petting them, it’s often due to joy. Or when you come home, and they are rubbing up against you, it’s a sign of happiness. If your cat is relaxed—with eyes half-closed and tail stiff—it’s most likely due to joy.
- Hunger: You can determine if a purr is a solicitation purr by sound. It’s very distinct. The purring has a whining edge to it. It’s also usually at a higher pitch than usual. If your cat wants to eat more or more often, it could signify an illness. Increased appetite is a symptom of hyperthyroidism, diabetes, parasites, etc.
- Attention: It can be hard to determine whether your cat is purring due to attention or another reason. You can narrow it down by looking for other attention-seeking behavior. Other signs can be lying on your work, nudging, waiting outside the door, and destructive behavior. Find out what your cat wants if you see these in conjunction with purring.
- Kitten-Mother Connection: Before a kitten can communicate with gestures and meows, it purrs. Purring lets the mother know where they are and vice versa. Kittens are born blind and deaf, but the vibrations let them find the mother’s milk. Additionally, mothers use it to lure kittens to sleep.
- Healing: If you are sick, a cat may purr around you as a way to help heal you. It’s hard to tell whether cats are sick. They tend to hide pain and illness well, but purring can signify. Additional signs of illness in a cat are a change in mood, changes in pupils, shortness of breath, weight changes, and more.
What does normal purring sound like?
All purrs are unique to the cat but have characteristics in common. Usually, a purr is low in tone and sounds like a slight rumble.
Janet Cutler says, “Purring happens when your cat makes a low-pitched vibrating noise, typically with their mouth closed (around 23-27 Hz). This happens when rapid movements of the larynx and diaphragm. Cats can purr while breathing in and out. Purring can happen for a very wide range of time and depends on your cat and their situation.”
“Cats also have a purr that they use to communicate with us when they want something; typically called a solicitation purr. This purr range has a higher frequency of 220–520 Hz and was described by many in the study as more urgent and less pleasant than a normal purr.”
If you are familiar with your cat’s purr, you should listen for changes. This may be a clue to illness. Conditions that cause inflammation of the tissues in the throat and surrounding areas may change the sound or frequency of your cat’s purr. Don’t assume the underlying cause is nothing—any changes should be investigated with your veterinarian.
Does purring for a long time mean your cat is happy?
Most likely, your cat purrs for a long time because they are happy. While there are other reasons for a cat to purr, those are far and few between. If all is well, your cat is purring because they love you. Embrace it and know you are a good cat owner.
About cats who purr all the time, even when sleeping
Yep, cats even purr while sleeping! However, what we consider to be sleeping is actually “catnapping.” Average adult cats sleep 16 to 18 hours a day. But cats will respond to stimuli quickly, such as opening a food can.
Cats don’t purr while deeply asleep but can when aware of their surroundings. Even while sleeping, our brains are constantly processing stimuli around us. Even though they appear to be fully asleep, your cat may know you are nearby and be happy.
Is it good that my cat is always purring? Or is there such a thing as excessive purring!
The frequency of your cat’s purring depends on the underlying reason. There are illnesses and diseases which present as a cat frequently purring due to pain or distress.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is known as the purring disease. It’s associated with feline coronavirus mutating. Most cats are infected with feline coronavirus, but it usually doesn’t affect them unless it mutates.
The problem with FIP is it’s hard to diagnose as there are rarely any outward signs until a cat is far down the path. There are two variants: wet and dry. Due to the hidden pain, cats with FIP purr almost constantly.
Though it is disheartening to consider purring as a negative sign, purring is good if those are ruled out. It means your cat loves you.
Does petting your cat and feeling the purr make the owner happier?
The science behind purring is fascinating. While we don’t know all the ins and outs, we have some knowledge. Purring releases endorphins, which is the happy chemical. When a cat cuddles close or is pet, purring can release these chemicals in the human in response. Purring can lower stress hormones, which helps people recover from illness.
Jane Cutler clarifies, “We don’t yet have any science looking at petting or purring, and it’s the effect on owner happiness. One study looked at people who reported decreased bad mood when a cat is in the house.”
But here’s what we do know.
Cats respond to physical and emotional illness. Cats notice physical illness. Purring helps cats heal more quickly from broken bones and bone cancers. It is theorized it can help humans heal faster as well. Purring also helps cats who have respiratory conditions breathe more easily.
Lowering stress hormones helps those with emotional illness recover. Cats are tuned into the emotional state of their humans, though they are commonly considered to be cold animals.
Why do cats sometimes bite when purring or being pet?
Most cat owners have had it happen. A cat sits on your lap, purring. You are stroking their back. And suddenly, they bite or scratch you! It’s surprising when it happens, but thankfully we know the reason and the solution.
Jane Cutler says, “Many cats purr while being petted or receiving physical attention. However, these cats may only like it for a short period. They may bite if signs of discomfort are not noticed or ignored by the person petting them.”
Petting-induced aggression is an instinctive reaction to something unpleasant or painful. It’s contradictory for a cat to beg for attention and bite after a few strokes. Their response is to stop the interaction. It’s a common behavior in cats.
Petting-induced aggression is caused by overstimulation. Cats have preferences on where to be touched, as some areas are more sensitive than others.
Cats like to be petted in the following places:
- Back of the head
- Under the chin
- Between the ears
Cats don’t like to be petted in the following places:
- Base of tail or tail
- Legs and feet
How do I know if a cat enjoys petting?
The biggest clue to whether a cat likes to be pet in a specific spot or enjoys an interaction is through their behavior. Cats communicate to us constantly using their body language.
Cats are happy and relaxed if:
- Their tail is upright, sometimes curved at the tip
- Half-closed eyes
- Blinking slowly or winking at you
- Rolling onto their back or showing their stomach
- Hopping up to greet you
Cats are anxious or stressed if:
- Close to the ground
- Ears are flat to the skull
- Eyes are wide, or pupils are wide
Cats are threatened if:
- Their back is arched
- Tail is upright and tense
- Their fur is standing straight up
- Whiskers pointing forward
- Growling or hissing
If your cats show any signs of anxiousness, threatened, or stressed behavior, take a break from the petting. If the cat seeks you out afterward, try to pet them again.
What to do if a cat bites or scratches you?
If a cat is overstimulated, it may react with a bite or a scratch. Those are common war wounds from cat ownership, but you should treat them every time. A bacterial infection called Cat Scratch Disease (CSD) can be spread when a cat bites or scratches hard enough to break the skin’s surface.
If injured, wash bites and scratches with soap and running water. Do not let cats lick your wounds. It could further increase your risk of developing CSD.
The problem with CSD is cats have no signs most of the time. You have to be aware of the symptoms, which include:
- Swollen and red wound
- Raised lesions
- Poor appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
If you suspect CSD, immediately contact your doctor.
What does it mean when your cat stops purring?
Cats use purring to communicate, as we’ve said above. If your cat stops purring, it may be concerning to you. But there is no need to worry!
The lack of purring usually means they don’t feel the need to. You fulfill all their needs, and they are happy with their environment.
If you are worried and want to trigger purring, you can:
- Pet in favorite spots
- Talking to them
- Offering comfort
- Favorite food