The sound of a cat purring – that low, continuous vibrating hum – has to be one of the most soothing sounds of comfort and contentment. Some cats purr very loudly so you can’t miss it. Others purr so quietly you have to have your ear right up close to them before you can hear it.
You see, purring isn’t just a sign of contentment unless, of course, the cat is curled up, relaxed, and comfortable. When a cat is in discomfort, pain, or is stressed, purring can be a way of comforting themselves.
This purr is slightly more labored and coupled with perhaps a tail movement. Let’s look a little further into this purring business.
Why Do Cats Purr?
Cats purr to communicate but not necessarily with intention. Purring to a cat is a way for them to calm themselves into a restful state if they find themselves in a stressful situation.
The cat’s purr’s vibration appears to provide a healing process to the muscles, bones, and tendons.
It also seems to relieve pain and ease breathing, which explains why cats purr when they are comfortable and sleepy. Perhaps like a child sucking their thumb – it provides a level of comfort.
Cats also can do a persuasive purring, it seems, especially when they are hungry. This is a tone of purring that humans think is cute and irresistible. Naturally, the cat then gets fed!
Physiology of Purring
There are a few different theories of what causes the cat to make the purring sound.
The most popular hypothesis is that the cats’ larynx muscles cause oscillation in the cats’ vocal cords during inhalation and exhalation of air, causing that vibrational humming sound.
Regardless of the explanation, the vibrational movement seems to be an involuntary action of the cat stimulated by the need to calm down.
Do All Cats Purr?
Not all cats purr! Cats that roar can’t purr. Cats that purr can’t roar! Inside the vocal cords of a large wild cat, such as a Lion, a soft, flexible bone allows them to make a deep roar. This bone-in our smaller domestic cats (and some wild cats too) is hard and non-flexible, so it can only vibrate when the cat is inhaling and exhaling, so unable to produce a threatening roar.
All domestic cats should be able to purr naturally – but this does not mean that they do. The only reason a domestic cat doesn’t purr is that it could be due to a physical defect that could have been caused by an accident or just a hereditary condition that the kitten was born with.
Of course, there are the cats that purr so quietly you could easily be mistaken for thinking they don’t purr, when actually, inside, they are humming and vibrating away nicely.
If your cat has always purred and then suddenly stops purring, then this may be a valid reason to see the veterinarian, especially if the cat also suddenly becomes lethargic or has a reduction in appetite.
Cat Breeds that Purr the Most.
Some cats are more vocal than others. Their vocalization can be rather varied and includes several types of purr. It is thought that cats use this vocalization to communicate with their humans rather than other cats. The cats which like to purr and talk the most are the Oriental, Ragdoll, Siamese, Burmese, Sphynx, Abyssinian, Tonkinese, and Japanese Bobtail, to name just a few.
Of course, many other of our plain old cats like to purr just as much. Purring can take on different tones also, for the other circumstances the cat is in and their reasons for purring.
How do I encourage purring from my cat?
The only way to urge your cat to purr more is to spoil it! A happy and comfortable cat will purr when relaxed. Whatever your cat loves – cuddles, sitting on your lap, or just being petted – spending the time to do this will encourage your cat to purr contentedly.
Cats generally love a scratch under their chin or behind their ears.
If your cat isn’t a purrer, then you may notice other signs of their contentedness, such as the kneading with their paws, tail standing upright, and eyes half-closed.
Since we attribute the sound of purring with peacefulness and calmness (whether right or wrong), we generally construe this to make us feel positive and relaxed when in the company of a purring cat. This can only be a good thing. Purring releases endorphins in the cat.
When we are with our beloved purring companions, this can do the same in us, thus lowering our blood pressure and helping us feel less stressed.
If your cat is a non-purrer and has always been, then there is no cause for concern. They will just show you their happiness in an alternative way. When we establish relationships with our furry friends, we get to understand their little quirks as they do with ours!