February 12, 2024 | Cat

Purring Explained: Why Do Cats Purr and What Does It Mean?

The soft, rumbling purr of a cat is certainly a happy sound for many humans, and most people assume it’s a sign their cat is relaxed. However, there are a number of different reasons why cats purr, and they’re not all a sign that everything is right. In this article, we will answer why cats purr, and what different reasons a cat may purr for.

Why do cats purr?

Most of us know that a hissing or growling cat is an unhappy cat, but did you know that meows and purrs can be signs of a cat in pain? 

From an early age, many of us are taught that when cats purr, they’re telling you they’re happy and content. While purring is thought to be partly voluntary and partly instinctive, research suggests that cats can purr for various reasons, using the soft rumble as a way of communicating and as a form of self-soothing or even healing. This is why cats will often purr when they’re injured, they are frightened, or after a stressful event. This is particularly true for cats with easygoing or gentle personalities. If you would like to hear your cat purring for good reasons more often, check out our range of cat products that are available to purchase online from UK Pets including toys, treats and more.

How do cats purr?

When cats purr, signals are sent to the muscles of the voice box as well as the diaphragm, which expands the chest when breathing. These signals stimulate a cat’s vocal cords to vibrate. So, as the cat breathes in and out, the air moves across these twitching muscles, resulting in a purring sound.

A cat purring after being tickled on the chin

Cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation, so the sound is nearly continuous. Purring may have developed as a mechanism to keep a cat’s bones and muscles in peak condition. This is helpful during the long periods of inactivity in their style of hunting, which is to wait for prey to come by and then ambush it.

Top Reasons Your Cat Purrs:

Your cat is feeling happy and relaxed

If your cat appears relaxed, with relaxed ears and whiskers, small pupils in their eyes, and their tail pointing up or curled around them, then their purring is most likely a sign they are happy. 

Your cat is bonding with their mum

Kittens can purr from birth, and they use this sound as a way to let their mum know where they are, that they’re ok and perhaps that it’s feeding time. It’s a key part of the mum-kitten bond.

Your cat is feeling stressed

If your cat is purring while their ears are flat or turned to the side, their eyes are wide open with wide pupils, and its whiskers are pointing forward or down, it’s likely that they are stressed.

Your cat is in pain

Purring can be a sign that your cat is in pain, so look for the body language cues mentioned above to try and tell if they are happy or stressed. If they are purring a lot more than usual or in different situations than they normally would, this could be a sign that something is wrong.

Your cat is stimulated

If your cat is purring loudly while you are stroking them or playing with them, this is a sign that they are stimulated. This type of purring may be accompanied by kneading, drooling and licking too. It’s ok to continue your interactions with your cat, but if they start to become aggressive, perhaps biting or scratching you, then they may be overstimulated and you should leave them alone for a while to calm down.

Your cat is self-soothing

Another possible reason for cats purring is to soothe themselves and help them heal. The low-frequency vibrations of a cat’s purr are suspected to lessen pain and swelling

Do big cats purr?

Big cats, like tigers and lions, can’t purr and it’s all because of a little bone in the back of their throat called the hyoid. In small cats, like bobcats, lynxes, cheetahs, cougars and our pet cats, this bone is completely rigid, so when the larynx, or voice box, vibrates, the hyoid bone reverberates to generate a low-frequency rumble that we call purring. In big cats this hyoid bone is only partly rigid, meaning they can produce deep roars but not gentle purrs.

A Lion sat in the grass

Medically reviewed by:


Why does my cat purr? | Meow Blog

Why do cats purr? | New Scientist

Why Do Cats Purr? What Does Cat Purring Mean? | PetMD