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Of all the interactions with your cats, hearing them purr can be one of the most rewarding. After all, a purring cat is a happy cat, so you must be doing something right, right? Not so fast. Experts agree that purring does not always indicate satisfaction, and in fact, a cat’s purr can mean several different things. This makes sense, if you think about it. After all, people laugh when they are amused, but they can also laugh when they are nervous or trying to be friendly or polite. Similarly, cats purr to communicate an array of emotions and for a variety of purposes.
Why do cats purr?
We will grant you that cats often purr when they are happy. When they are warm and cosy, cuddling with a beloved family member, cats will often crank up a loud and satisfying purr. Similarly, you might hear your cat purring while lying in the sun, enjoying a peaceful moment. However, cats purr to communicate more than satisfaction. Sometimes they purr when they are hungry, to encourage their humans to feed them. At other times, cats purr because they are anxious or stressed. Kittens can purr from their earliest days, to communicate with their mothers, who in turn purr as a sort of lullaby. Mama cats have been known to purr while in labour, and cats often purr when distressed or in pain. Experts believe that purring can be a self-soothing mechanism and can also be used to soothe other cats. More than that, though, it may be therapeutic. Evidence shows that purring not only helps ease pain and regulate breathing but can also actually stimulate healing. That may seem hard to believe, but it’s true! Science tells us that the vibrations in a cat’s body due to the frequency of purring can heal bones and wounds, lessen pain and swelling, ease breathing, and even build muscles and repair tendons. Purring can even have beneficial physical effects on cats’ human family members. We have long known that cats are good at taking care of themselves; perhaps those vibrations help them survive falls from high up and have fewer complications from surgeries than their canine brethren.
So, how exactly do cats purr?
This brings up the question of how cats purr. Purring, as you may have noticed, is not really like a cat’s other vocalisation, nor is it something we are able to easily replicate as humans. Does that mean that cats have a special body part that creates the purr? No. Purring actually begins in the central nervous system and travels to the muscles of the voice box. As these muscles tighten and release quickly while the kitty is inhaling and exhaling, vibrations are created that we can not only feel but also hear. It is not just housecats that purr, either. Cheetahs, bobcats, pumas, and lynx are also known to communicate by purring.
What does it mean?
How can you tell what your kitty means by purring? Context clues are helpful. After all, a cat who is hungry or in labour is not likely to be expressing deep satisfaction and a sense of comfortable well-being. Paying attention to the cat’s body language and what else is happening can help you to understand what your cat is trying to tell you.
A relaxed cat may purr because of happiness.
If your cat is purring and seems very relaxed, with eyes half-closed and tail still, you can safely assume this is a happy cat. A purr can be the feline equivalent of a smile, and cats often purr when eating, drinking, or snuggling with their favourite family members, to express satisfaction and contentment.
A cat who wants something will have a less pleasant sound mixed with the purr.
Just as a human baby’s cry is a bit jarring, so is the purr of a cat who is hungry and asking for food. Experts think the reason for this discordant purr is that it prompts us to respond more quickly.
Cats give a friendly purr of greeting when they pass a familiar cat.
A purr lets another feline know that the cat is approachable, friendly, and not a threat. Cats will also curl up with another cat who is injured, purring to help their cat friend heal.
An anxious or angry kitty might purr and bite.
An anxious purr is likely to be at a higher frequency than the cat’s usual purr, and may be accompanied by panting or baring teeth. Often, a purr that is expressing anger, anxiety, pain, or need will be intentional, while a content purr is involuntary.
If your cat is purring and using other vocalisations continuously for over 24 hours, it could indicate illness.
Look for other signs that may be symptoms of sickness, like changes in eating, drinking, or grooming habits, lethargy, or frequent vomiting. In this case, your kitty’s purring could be a cry for help, as well as a self-soothing mechanism.
The relationships we have with our pets are rewarding, and for most of us, that means we want to do all we can to make their lives happy. If you are looking for professionally installed cat flaps to give your kitties the freedom they crave, you can trust that Pet Flaps UK is ready to help, with exactly the features and setup you need. Pet Flaps now covers much of the UK, including Scotland, installing high quality pet doors, and providing all types of glass installations. For more information, call 0330 165 4940 or contact us through our website.