What is Cat Purring? and Why does Cat do it?

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Question: Why does Cat Purr? how they do it, why they do it, and what it means.

Just writing a couple of questions about Cat purring, what are some reasons that cats purr? (for bonding? To self-soothe? So their owners can find them? etc.) Why do cats purr when they are in pain, such as when giving birth or dying? I’ve read that cats can purr at frequencies that may stimulate healing (even in humans): is there any merit to this claim? I’ve also heard that cats are capable of producing a clever combination of a purr and a specific cry that mimics a human child (a sound that’s very hard for us to ignore)…could this be evidence that cats have learned how to manipulate us?How can cat owners interpret their cat’s purring? What clues/context should they be looking for?

Answer:

Purring is a form of communication that often seems to be associated with contentment in cats. We can’t say for sure, but it’s probably a way for cats to tell those around them that whatever is going on at the moment meets with their approval. However, cats may also purr when they are stressed, sick, or injured. Research has shown that the frequencies cats generate when they purr promote healing, so it is possible that these cats are trying to make themselves feel better.

Most purring is related to positive emotions and/or events in cats. However, cats who are purring and exhibiting signs of illness, injury, or anxiety should be seen by a veterinarian. Meows do occur at much the same acoustic frequency as a human baby’s cry. They can also combine a meow and a purr, which has been dubbed solicitation purring. Research has shown that people find solicitation purring less annoying than straight-up meowing so it’s more likely to get cats what they want. Cats are simply trying different ways of communicating with us and when they hit upon a signal that works, they’ll keep using it.

This is why the best way to get your cat to stop doing something that annoys you is to not react to that behavior at all. Reward the behaviors you want to see and ignore those that you don’t.

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If you have any specific health concerns related to your pet, please be sure to take the pet to your vet or an emergency vet, or if you have concerns related to something your pet may have eaten another option is to call a pet poison control line. Be aware that there is a fee to use these services. Two that we can recommend are the ASPCA Animal Poison Control at (888) 426-4435 and the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661.

Dr. Jennifer Coates
Dr. Jennifer Coates was valedictorian of her graduating class at the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and has practiced in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is also the author of numerous articles and books including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian.