|

Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them? The Surprising Truth

Disclaimer

As a Chewy and Amazon affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This does not impact our reviews and comparisons.

Why do cats purr when you pet them?

Cat’s purr for two main reasons:

  • Asking for food (hungry purr)
  • Healing

In both situations, you might pet your cat and assume this means your cat is purring because you are petting them.

However, they could be asking for food or relaxing. Your patting might help cats reach a relaxed state sooner.

In this article, I’ll delve into the two amazing reasons cats purr.

Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them

My name is Derrick, and I write for Simply Cat Care.

My goal with this website is to help cat owners learn more about taking care of their cats. I am not a veterinarian and I recommend seeking the advice of a vet for any further questions.

In this article, I’ll answer the question ‘ Why do cats purr when you pet them?’ You’ll learn more awesome cat facts to share with all your cat buddies.

Let’s get into the article.

How Do Cats Purr?

A cat’s larynx dilates and tightens, creating a purring sound.

Muscles within the cat larynx provide the basis for a purring sound. 

When dilated, they tighten around the glottis which surrounds the vocal cords.

When a cat inhales and exhales it vibrates against the constricting vocal cords. This creates the characteristic purr sound of a cat.

The vibrations sound a little like a small motor. 

Bottom Line: A cat’s larynx dilates and tightens, creating a purring sound.

Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them?

Some Big Cats Also Purr!

Did you know that the cheetah and cougar also purr?

There are two cat family tree branches:

  • Felidae
  • Panathenaea

Cats are part of the Felidae family tree.

Other cats of the Felidae evolutionary family, including the cheetah and cougar, can purr as well. 

Lions and tigers are part of the Panathenaea family tree which roars instead of purring.

This means there was some evolutionary selection pressure that led to cats purring instead of roaring. Dogs are distantly related to cats and have no form of purring.

Bottom Line: Members of the Felidae family tree including cheetahs and cougars, have the ability to purr.

Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them?
Cougars are part of the Felidae family tree and purr instead of roaring.

Why Do Cats Purr?

Cats purr for two main reasons:

  • Asking for food (hungry purr)
  • Healing

Many people assume that purring is a sign of contentment.

Whilst this may be true, this isn’t the primary reason for purring.

Cats can communicate in a variety of ways with many different sounds, including purring. Different sounds can show different emotions or needs.

Let’s cover two main reasons cats purr.

Bottom Line: Cats purr when asking for food or healing.

Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them?

Hungry Purr

Cats use purring to encourage their owner to feed them.

The scientific name for this is ‘solitious purring’ (i.e. your cat is trying to solicit a response from you to get fed).

Why do cats do this?

When a kitten is only days old, they will begin to purr as a way to help their mother cats locate them for feeding.

This purring encourages the owner or mother to respond with food.

The ‘feed me’ purr has a high-frequency meowing sound which has a similar effect to a baby crying.

This is your cat’s way of stating the case ‘Hey, I need food right now!’

Bottom Line: Cats use purring to encourage their owner to feed them.

Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them?

Healing Purr

Purring helps cats reach a relaxed state in their body.

It turns out that the purrs vibrate in the 20-150hz range of sound frequency. This range stimulates healing in the skin and soft tissue. 

As cats spend a lot of time resting, the purrs might be an energy-efficient way of maintaining strong bones whilst being inactive.

Exercise and general activity maintain strong muscles and bones. When cats are spending a lot of time resting, purrs might be a form of exercise that replaces movement.

Healing explains why cats purr in seemingly unpleasant and pleasant situations.

For example, cats also purr when giving birth. This helps to relax a cat and help provide relief from the stress of birth. 

When cats are in pain or nearing death, they may also purr.

Read more about the surprising truth about why cats purr over at this article.

Bottom Line: Cats purr to stimulate healing in their bodies.

Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them?

Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them?

Petting your cat helps them reach a relaxed state.

As you’ve learned, this is helpful for healing.

Does this mean cats are always happy when purring?

It depends.

Healing occurs in times of pain as well as pleasure. For example, even cats that are in serious pain may purr to help with stress relief.

Although this is less likely, it is important to note that purring doesn’t always mean a happy cat.

Purring is also a form of language for cats.

Cats purr when they want food. If your cat starts purring when petting them, they might just be hungry and ready to eat.

Look out for your cat’s tail upright and vibrating. Cats may do this when they want to eat.

Your furry friend will also use purring whilst relaxing and staring at you with eyes half-closed. That’s more of a sign your cat is healing and resting.

Bottom Line: Cats purr when petting them to help with healing or to ask for food.

Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them?
I really just want to be fed now.

Why Does My Cat Purr So Loud When I Pet Him?

Loud purrs may be a sign of pain.

If you notice a change in your cat’s mood then they may be in pain.

Examples of pain include:

  • Growling
  • Sensitive to touch
  • Lethargic movement
  • Coughing

Check out my article on how to know the signs your cat is in pain to learn more.

If your cat shows signs of pain, contact a vet for support.

Bottom Line: Loud purrs may be a sign of pain. Check the signs a cat is in pain to find out more.

Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them?

Is Purring a Sign of Affection?

Maybe.

Check your cat’s body language. This shows whether they are content, or purring from stress.

Signs of affection and contentment include:

  • Upwards pointed ears
  • Stretched out tail
  • Closed eyes

Research suggests that cat ownership can reduce the risk of death from stroke and heart disease by one-third.

Whilst the mechanism for this is speculative, purring could be one key to the benefit of calming us.

Cats make us healthier and may purr to keep us happy. So go ahead, grab a cat and let the purrs work their magic.

Bottom Line: Purring may be a sign of affection. Look for other positive body language cues such as a stretched-out tail and upwards pointed ears.

Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them?
Cats may purr if you pat them due to affection, but it is more likely they are relaxed.

Why Do Cats Purr and Then Bite You?

Biting is a sign of discomfort.

Remember:

Cats purr for healing. They purr in reaction to stressful situations.

Look for the signs of aggression. This includes things like:

  • Swishing tail
  • Slanted eyes
  • Crouched position
  • Hissing
  • Fur standing on end

Sometimes whilst grooming, cats may nibble you as well. This isn’t a problem as long as you aren’t getting hurt.

Always pay close attention to all body language cues to understand your cat.

Check out more about fascinating cat noises and what they mean in this article.

Bottom Line: Biting is a sign of discomfort. Be aware of the signs your cat is in discomfort.

Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them?

Conclusion: Why Do Cats Purr When You Pet Them?

In this article, I’ve answered the question of why cats purr when you pet them.

Cat’s purr for two main reasons:

  • Asking for food (hungry purr)
  • Healing

Cats purr using the muscles around their vocal cords. It’s an evolved trait found in cats of the Felidae family tree.

Cat purrs when contented, hungry, or in stress. It’s important to look at other body language cues to know the difference in what your cat is trying to say.

A cat sleeping

Similar Posts