Can you think of anything more relaxing than having a curly cat on your lap? (Okay, if you’re a dog person, you probably can. But stay with me here because this gets cool.) Humans often interpret a cat’s purring as a sign of a cat’s approval. And that may be true – sometimes. But there is much more than just purring happy feelings.
Feed me now!
Kittens are born deaf and blind, but they can purr and purr almost instantly. Purring is how helpless kittens get their mothers’ attention, explains Autumn Vetter, DVM, clinical assistant professor at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. Kittens are purring to tell their mom they are hungry. If your cat is purring when it’s time to fill the food dish, you’ll likely hear “Mom, please feed me” purr.
But purring may not always indicate a request, let alone satisfaction. Cats purr when they are anxious or stressed, too. A trip to the vet or simply being placed in a cat carrier can lead to a bout of purring in some cats. Cats may also purr when in pain. Vetter notes that cats sometimes purr when they are mercifully killed. “I finally got them to start purring to calm themselves,” she says. A 2009 study in a current biology I’ve found that different types of purring look different, too. Humans found the purring of cats that asked to be fed more “urgent and less pleasant” than the purring of cats that asked for nothing. Support acoustic analysis of this purr. Integral to the low-pitched purr was something more urgent: a high-frequency shriek. Interestingly, this cry is somewhat similar to the cry of an infant in distress. Somewhere along the evolutionary path, it seems, cats have learned one of the most reliable ways to get the attention of humans.
The emotional and physical benefits of purring
There is also some evidence that purring may do more than indicate emotional arousal or hunger. A 2001 paper Posted in Journal of the American Acoustic Association found that cats (including large cats such as leopards and pumas) produce purring in Frequencies that have been shown to promote wound healing.
It’s also possible that cats purr for preventive health – to keep themselves healthy strong bones and theirs muscles from deterioration. When humans rest a lot (for example, when they are sick or injured or just because they are already on TV), their muscles deteriorate and their bones become weak. Purring can be a cat’s way of avoiding this unpleasant consequence of a lifestyle that involves long periods of sitting still waiting for prey to escape. By creating vibrations with purring, cats may stimulate their bones and muscles enough to prevent them from becoming mushy from lack of use.
So how do you know what your cat is trying to get past? Is it lunch time? Do you need to call the vet? Or is your beloved cat just doing routine maintenance? Like most human-pet communication, it takes time and attention to learn language. If you know your cat well, you can probably tell what they are trying to communicate to you. But if you’re in doubt, reading your cat’s body language can help. Vetter points out that if the cat is lying on its side with its legs open and its eyes partially closed, the purr is likely one of satisfaction. If their limbs are close to their body and their eyes are open and wide, then the purring is most likely a nervous purr.
Cats may purr for a variety of reasons, not always to communicate messages to humans. When purring is messages to us, it can range from something as simple as “I’m happy now” to something more complex: “Has anyone here noticed it’s dinner time?” But when they don’t talk to us, purring becomes more difficult to diagnose.