4 Reasons Cats Purr

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Why do cats purr?  Cats purr when they:

  • feel content
  • are hungry or want something
  • are thinking about their mother
  • need to calm themselves

As with most animal behavior, we might not understand everything about why cats purr.  But we have made consistent observations in certain areas. As we begin to understand these observations we build better relationships with our cats.

Cats Use Different Kinds Of Purrs

If you listen closely, you will notice that not all cat purrs are the same.  Your cat can change the speed and pitch of their purrs.  They can also vocalize while purring.  They blend purrs with other sounds to create a unique language.

Cats use these different purrs to communicate different feelings or needs.  Scientists have been studying these different purrs and their uses.  They even believe they have found purrs that cats use only when communicating to us. 1

A Happy Cat Purrs

Cats purr when they are content.  This can be during a brushing session.  This can also be from nothing you have done at all.  If your cat is sitting still with its eyes half closed and purring away, you can bet they are in a happy place.

Our cat Maya loves what I call “voice pets”.  Maya might be siting in the room a short distance away from me.  I quietly and softly call her name multiple times.  Soon you can hear her purring from across the room.

Cats Purr When They Are Hungry

Cats have a specific purr they use to ask us for something they want. 1 It is called a “solicitation purr”.  This solicitation purr combines a meow with a purr and is highly effective.  Even humans that have never lived with a cat can recognize it as different than a regular purr.  It has often been described as less pleasant and carrying a sense of urgency.

Kittens Purr To Their Mother And Cats Purr To Their Kittens

Kittens can purr once they are a few days old.  The purring between a mother and her kittens creates a strong bond. If we understand why a kitten first purrs, we begin building a holistic understanding of what our cats are saying to us.

Cats Purr To Calm Themselves

Cats also purr in stressful situations or when they are in pain.  We’ve heard cats purring while being brought to the vet.  This wasn’t because they were excited to see the doctor again.

Cats purr to calm themselves.  If we think back to how kittens purr with their mothers, this makes sense.  They are going to their “happy place”, just like humans do when they are in a similar situation.

Does The Sound Of Purring Help Humans?

I have not found any conclusive studies proving, without a doubt, that a cat’s purr has medical benefits.  At least, not yet.  However, I am open minded.  There is one thing I know.  When my cat starts purring while we are snuggled up on the couch, it makes me feel calm and content.  I’m happy I get to share that feeling with them.

Unless it’s a solicitation purr.  Then let me sleep another 10 minutes.


1 Karen McComb, Anna M. Taylor, Christian Wilson, Benjamin D. Charlton. The cry embedded within the purr. Current Biology. 2009; Volume 19, Issue 13. Retrieved Sept 27, 2020, from https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(09)01168-3

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