My cat turns into a lawnmower when it’s our bedtime and a motorcycle when I’m preparing his meal.
Not physically but from the way he sounds when he purrs.
A cat’s purr is the calling card of the card. It is something that many of us associate with cats. There’s nothing quite as rewarding as having your cat purr while lying on your lap or while you stroke it.
Not only do domestic cats purr but purring is something programmed into all cats be it stray or feral cats and even wild cats like your tigers and cheetahs.
But do cats purr voluntarily or is it an instinctive action like smiling when you are happy?
A cat’s purring can be both voluntary and involuntary. Cats can control their purring to a certain extent and purr for many reasons. Not only is purring beneficial for cats but it does have wellness benefits for humans too.
In this article, we will go deeper into a cat’s purring mechanism and why they purr.
Let’s get purring.
How Do Cats Purr?
A cat’s purring stems from the neural oscillator in the cat’s brain. The neural oscillator controls the constant rhythmic contracting and loosening of the glottis that is situated in the cat’s larynx.
The glottis is the area that surrounds the cat’s vocal which vibrates when the cat breathes in and out thus producing its trademark purring sound.
Cats can purr between the frequency ranges of 25hz to 150hz. Humans hear within a range of 20hz to 200hz which makes a cat’s purr frequencies very audible to us.
To put some perspective into this, your cat’s purring sound pretty similar to an idling diesel engine.
How cool is that!
Is A Cat’s Purring Involuntary?
Is it still a grey area when it comes to this point. Cats do engage in involuntary purring but they do have some form of control over it as well, which we will touch on this later.
A cat’s purring is triggered by neural oscillators which form part of its central nervous system. Anything that is initiated by your central nervous system is largely involuntary.
You can’t control your fear if you have a fear of heights.
The ‘purr’ sound most likely isn’t consciously controlled by the cat since it’s triggered by the brain. But they can control how they purr to an extent.
How Can Cats Control Their Purring?
Here comes the interesting part when it comes to your cat’s purring.
There’s a saying amongst pet owners “Dogs have masters and cats have slaves”.
And there are good reasons for this.
Dogs aim to please their owners and cats, not so so much. In fact, many cat owners find it difficult to make their cats do anything that they do not want to do.
But cats are good at turning their owners into personal butlers.
Through many years of domestication, cats have carefully observed, adapted and developed many ways to influence our actions.
The initial trigger of a purring cat comes from its brain but it can manipulate the pitch within the purr to communicate with humans.
Your cat is able to slot in a high-pitched note within its purr that sounds very much like a baby crying.
Such a purr is also called a ‘solicitation purr’ and it usually happens when your cat wants something like food or cleaning its litter box.
The cleverly placed high-pitched note makes it irresistible to us as it tugs at our heartstrings. It’s no wonder we find ourselves doing our cat’s bidding so willingly at times.
What Does It Mean When A Cat Is Purring?
Cats purr loudly not only because they are hungry and want to be fed but they can also purr for a variety of reasons which we will be covering below.
The Cat Is Happy And Contented
A cat purring is usually associated with a happy cat and that is true.
Cats do purr when they are feeling happy and comfortable.
You will hear this often when your cat is kneading (making biscuits) the blanket or bed and getting ready for bed. Or it could be when your cat is having a blissful nap on your lap while getting its head stroked.
The Cat Is Feeling Stressed
Cats do not just purr when they are feeling happy. Cats are also known to purr when they are feeling anxious and under a lot of stress.
Purring to a cat is like crying, laughing or doing a pep talk for humans when we are feeling down. The effects of purring help to calm and soothe a cat during moments of duress.
Your cat might be purring loudly whenever it is at the vet. It doesn’t mean that your cat is happy to be there. Your cat is using its own purring to deal with its elevated stress levels.
The Cat Is Injured
Besides using their purring sound for communication, a cat’s purr is also a healing mechanism.
A cat purrs around 25hz which is in the same range that regenerates tissue and heals bones. Some cat owners have even observed their cats gathering around the cat that is injured and purring together.
Purring helps to bring about pain relief and reduce swelling and inflammation in cats too.
Maybe that is because we think of cats as having 9 lives.
They are able to ‘self heal’ to some extent without requiring medical attention. Modern medicine is also starting to use purr therapy to help with human recovery.
As amazing as this might seem, please don’t depend on your cat’s purring to heal itself. Your cat still needs medical attention when it is unwell or injured.
Helps A Cat To Breathe Easier
Cats that have an upper respiratory condition can have trouble breathing. Purring helps to relax the cat’s air passageways thus allowing it to breathe easier.
Bond Between Mother Cat And Kittens
If your cat has just given birth, you might find her purring while she tends to her kittens. Her purring sound helps to calm her kittens down and let them know she is near.
One of the first vocalizations that kittens learn is how to purr. It lets their mother cat know they are near and helps all of them bond as a litter.
Nothing is quite as soothing as hearing a bunch of cats purring together.
Do Cats Ever Get Tired Of Purring?
Purring to cats is as normal and intuitive as breathing or meowing. Cats won’t ever get tired of purring as it helps with so many functionalities of their lives.
Purring is a natural reaction for cats and uses very little energy and doesn’t tire them out. My cat is a true blue purring machine and purrs non-stop when I pet him.
I would be more concerned if my cat doesn’t purr at all.
A Cat’s Purring Effect On Humans?
We humans have benefited a lot by observing and studying the natural healing effects of mother nature.
Scientists have now been studying deeper into the healing properties of a cat’s purr and creating therapies that can work on humans.
Vibration therapy is one way that medical science has adopted from cats. It is a device that basically vibrates the whole body or a specific part at the same frequency as a cat’s purr.
This is to facilitate physical healing and overall wellness in humans.
As mentioned earlier, cats are less prone to breathing disorders as compared to humans or dogs. Vibration therapy can also help humans with breathing disorders.
When cats purr, it helps to release the happy hormones called endorphins in their bodies. We humans experience that too when we have a purring cat near us.
Endorphins help to decrease our stress levels and get rid of stress-related symptoms like headaches and worry.
Are Cats Always Happy When They Purr?
Cats do not always purr when they are happy. Purring is also a healing and coping mechanism when cats are feeling unwell or in pain.
My cat owners and vets also notice that cats purr even when near their deaths to cope with stressful situations.
What Other Sounds Can Cats Make?
Besides purring, our cats can be quite talented vocalists. These are the different types of vocalizations that a cat can make.
Meowing in cats is more commonly used when communicating with humans. Cats have also learnt to meow like a crying baby to get us to respond.
Sounds like yowling and hissing usually happens when a can is being aggressive or fearful. A cat that makes such sounds is ready to flee to attack.
If you do notice your cat vocalizing in this manner, do be cautious as it might scratch or bite if triggered. Look out for other body language signals like a puffed-up tail, ears pulled back and showing its teeth.
There are some cat breeds that can be more vocal like the Maine Coone, Siamese and Bengal. You can hear these cats chattering and chirping when they get excited.
Many of these cats will start to chirp and chatter when they spot a bird or squirrel outside the window.
Should I Be Concerned If My Cat Purrs Excessively?
Cats have different and unique personalities. You might just have a cat that loves to purr all the time regardless of how it is feeling.
I wouldn’t be alarmed if you find your cat purring often. Try observing your cat closely to see if it is exhibiting other symptoms like:
- diarrhea or constipation
- lack of appetite
- excessive grooming
- change in litter box habits
Any one of the above symptoms could mean that your cat isn’t feeling well and is purring to calm itself down or relieve the pain.
It would be best to bring your cat to the vet for a physical examination to see if there is an underlying medical condition.
If there is one thing that I love looking forward to every day is hearing my cat purr. He loves sleeping behind my laptop as I work and purrs like his life depends on it.
It is often deep and loud enough that I can feel the vibrations as I type.
Who needs meditative sound clips from Youtube when you have a live one right in front of you.
Having a cat purr near you is a great sign of affection and comfort. Just be sure to be on the lookout if you suspect that your cat is purring due to health reasons.