What Does it Mean When a Cat Purrs?

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Last Updated: October 26th, 2023

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All cats purr, but what does it mean when a cat purrs? Read this insightful article about cat purring and understand your cats behavior.

Grey cat being petted and purring. What does it mean when a cat purrs

In the realm of feline medicine and behavior, few phenomena are as simultaneously familiar and enigmatic as the cat’s purr. Those who share their homes with cats often understand this rhythmic resonance as a sign of contentment. Yet, the underlying reasons for this unique vocalization are multifaceted and extend beyond mere satisfaction. Let’s explore the science and anatomy behind this behavior as we aim to answer the question: What does it mean when a cat purrs?

What Are the Different Types of Cat Purr?

Cat’s purring is not monolithic in its meaning. From a veterinarian and ethologist’s perspective, understanding the nuances behind the purrs can help in interpreting your cat’s emotional state and well-being. Here are the different types of cat purrs:

Contentment Cat Purr

This is the most commonly recognized purr. Cats often produce this low, steady sound when they’re relaxed, comfortable, and content, such as during petting, resting, or cuddling.

Solicitation or “Pet Me” Cat Purr

This type of purr is slightly different in its tone and is often used when the cat is trying to solicit attention from its owner. Researchers have noted that this purr tends to be mixed with a high-frequency cry, somewhat resembling a baby’s cry, making it harder for humans to ignore.

Anxious Cat Purr

Cats might also purr when they’re in pain, anxious, or unwell. This could be a self-soothing mechanism, similar to how humans might hum or sing to comfort themselves or their baby. Veterinarians often observe this kind of purring in cats that are recovering from surgery or when they’re seriously ill.

Purr during Aggression

On rare occasions, a cat may purr during aggressive encounters or displays. This is less understood and can be confusing to interpret, especially because purring is often associated with positive emotions.

Mother-Kitten Purr:

Mother cats will purr during the birth process, and kittens start purring when they are a few days old during nursing. This could serve as a bonding mechanism and a way for the kittens to communicate their well-being to their mother.

How Do You Know if Purring is Good or Bad?

An anxious cat purr might not sound drastically different from a contentment purr to an untrained ear, but an anxious purr is usually louder, more intense and has an urgent quality to it. Also, the situation in which the cat starts purring can provide clues. Look for other signs of stress or anxiety, like pacing or restlessness.

orange cat in her owners arms, looking over her owners shoulder

Does Every Cat Have a Unique Purr?

Every cat’s purr is unique in the same way that each human’s voice is unique. While the basic mechanism and frequency range of purring are consistent among domestic cats, there are individual variations based on anatomy, size, health, and possibly even personality.

Several factors contribute to the uniqueness of a cat’s purr:

  • Cat’s Anatomy: Just as the size and shape of a human’s vocal cords and respiratory tract influence the tone of their voice, a cat’s internal structures can affect the sound of its purr.
  • Health: A cat’s health status can influence its purr. For instance, a cat with respiratory issues might produce a purr that sounds different from its typical purr.
  • Age: Kittens have a higher-pitched purr, which can change in tone as they mature. Similarly, older cats might have a different sounding purr than when they were younger.
  • Emotional State: As previously mentioned, cats may modulate their purrs based on their emotional state, which can make their purrs sound different in various contexts.
  • Intensity and Volume: Some cats naturally purr louder or softer than others. The intensity with which a cat engages its purring mechanism can also vary, leading to individual differences.

For regular cat owners, it might be challenging to distinguish between individual cats’ purrs without close attention. However, many pet owners who are attuned to their cats can recognize their pet’s purr among others due to the subtle differences and familiarity.

Grey cat purring

Which Cat Breed Purr the Loudest?

The bigger the cat, the bigger the purr! The Maine Coon cat is often cited as one of the loudest purrers among domestic cat breeds. These cats are one of the largest domesticated breeds, and with their size comes a deep, resonant purr that can be notably louder than many other breeds.

Another breed with a notably loud purr is the British Shorthair. Some cats of this breed can produce deep and resonant purrs that can rival the volume of a Maine Coon’s.

However, it’s essential to note that while breed can be a factor in the general characteristics of a purr, individual variation exists. Some individual cats might purr louder or softer than others within the same breed.

How Does Cat Purring Affect Humans?

The soothing rhythm of a cat’s purr has long been a source of comfort and delight for many cat owners. Beyond the immediate sense of companionship and contentment, cat purring can have several positive effects on human health and well-being:

  • Stress Reduction: The act of petting a purring cat and listening to the rhythmic sound can reduce stress and anxiety. This interaction can lead to a release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and emotional well-being.
  • Lowering Blood Pressure: Along with the reduction of stress, interactions with pets, including purring cats, have been shown to help lower blood pressure.
  • Healing Properties: Some studies suggest that the frequency at which cats purr can promote healing in bones and tissues. While this is more directly beneficial to the cat, humans exposed to similar frequencies have shown increased rates of tissue regeneration. More research is needed to fully understand and validate this effect.
  • Improved Sleep: According to PTIS, many people find it comforting to sleep with a purring cat. The rhythmic sound can serve as a form of white noise, which can aid in falling asleep and improving the quality of sleep.
  • Reduced Risk of Heart Attack: Some studies suggest that cat ownership can lead to a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. While purring is just one aspect of cat ownership, it contributes to the overall relaxation and positive feelings associated with having a feline companion.
  • Enhanced Mood: Interacting with a purring cat can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, which can lead to an elevated mood.
white cat sleeping next to her human owner

In Conclusion: What Does it Mean When a Cat Purrs?

While most of the time, cat’s purring signals contentment, it can have various meanings, like anxiety, stress and pain. Looking at the environmental factors and other indicators, you can learn to understand your cat’s purring.

While the act of a cat purring is a natural mechanism primarily serving the feline’s needs, the effect of this behavior can have various positive impacts on human health and well-being. The bond between humans and their feline companions, showcased by the simple act of purring, shows the profound interconnectedness of our lives with the animal kingdom.



    Maja Sebenik is a proud owner of a Dachshund named Bimba. With three years of experience working as a researcher for a pet magazine, Maja's love for animals runs deep. Through her heartfelt writing, Maja shares practical tips, advice, and heartwarming anecdotes to inspire fellow pet lovers. Join her on a journey to explore the wonders of the animal kingdom, one paw at a time.

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