I Am Purring! I Might Be Happy, I Might Be Not!

Purring is the most common sound cats make. But why do cats purr? It’s easy to assume that a cat purrs because she is happy or she is content but purring can also mean that the cat is in pain, nervous or is just trying to manipulate you into feeding her.

Kelly Morgan, DVM, clinical instructor at the Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine in Chicago, likens purring to smiling. People smile when they are happy, but also when they feel uncomfortable or when they want something. Likewise, purring can indicate a variety of internal states.

Some cats purr when it’s mealtime. British researchers studied the sounds that house cats make when they’re hungry and when food isn’t on their minds. The purrs don’t sound the same.

When cats purr for food, they combine their normal purr with an unpleasant cry or mew, a bit like a human baby’s cry. Experts believe that we’re more likely to respond to this sound. They’ve found that people can tell the difference between the purrs, even if they aren’t cat owners.

Cats’ purrs are more than simply a way to communicate though. Scientists like Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, a bioacoustics researcher, believe that cats also purr to heal themselves.

Isn’t cat purring amazing?