What is My Cat Telling Me When They Purr?

When you own a cat, you may find yourself picking up on their body language and feline communication habits quickly. Cats use a wide variety of different methods to tell their human family members how they feel, and one of these methods is purring.

But what does it really mean when a cat purrs? If your cat is purring, does that always mean they are happy, or are there other potential causes of this behavior too? In the article below, we’ll answer these questions and help you learn more about what your cat is telling you when they purr at you.

cat purring

Happiness and Contentment

By far the most common cause of purring in cats is happiness. Happiness and contentment cause a cat to feel so relaxed that they begin to purr quickly. The longer your cat stays relaxed, the more they are likely to purr—and some cats may purr so hard during relaxation that they begin to drool a little!

Contented purring is completely normal in cats and is nothing to worry about. If your cat shows no signs of distress while purring and is very comfortable, then they are just happy.

Connection with Kittens

Mother cats purr to connect with their kittens. The sound and feeling of a mother cat purring helps kittens relax and calm down, and it soothes them as well. Mother cats who are never separated from their kittens may continue to purr at them this way well into feline adulthood.

This behavior is likely why some cats may purr when they cuddle together, even if they are not littermates or relatives at all. The close, bonding behavior of purring allows cats to tell each other that they are there for comfort.

Asking for Food

Sometimes, cats may begin purring when they want something. Most commonly, this behavior is seen when cats beg for food or treats from their human family members. Cats quickly learn that they get attention, and sometimes get food, when they purr at their humans. Therefore, they pick up on this routine and continue the behavior indefinitely, too.

If your cat seems to purr at you a lot when you’re standing in the kitchen, for example, they are probably begging for something. You can ignore the behavior if you like, but there isn’t anything inherently wrong with it—unless it becomes annoying or leads to an overbearing cat.

Playing and Hunting

Kittens and younger adult cats are prone to purring when they play with each other, or with toys. This purring may be due to excitement, or it may help them calm their nerves when they’re practicing their hunting. Either way, it is perfectly normal and part of a cat’s regular routine to do this.

Purring while hunting may be seen in some cats, too. If your cat is chasing an insect in your home, for example, you may notice them purring while focused on trying to catch it. You might also hear your cat purring if they manage to catch their prey.

Anxiety and Nervousness

Some cats purr to soothe themselves when they feel anxious or nervous. It can be difficult to tell when your cat is nervous if they are the type to purr about it. Human family members of nervous cats typically assume purring is always positive and therefore do not notice when purring may indicate anxiety instead.

If you know your cat struggles with anxiety and nerves a lot of the time, take her to the veterinarian. They may need to take an anti-anxiety medication to help stay calm. Otherwise, your vet may have some other options for you to choose from, too.

Possibility of Pain

Finally, pain is another cause of purring in cats. Cats purr when they are in pain because they want to soothe themselves and try to relieve some of the pain at the same time. There are some studies that show purring may help a cat’s body heal faster, too.

If you know your cat is in pain or suspect they might be, then you may notice when their purring seems unnatural. In this situation, take them to the vet to be checked out and to find the underlying cause of the pain.

Cat Purring Can Mean Many Different Things

As you can see, purring has a lot of different meanings to a cat! It can be tricky to learn the different types and styles of purring your cat may provide, but over time, you’re likely to pick up on the subtleties.

If you think your cat is purring out of pain or anxiety, consider taking them to your Heart + Paw vet to be checked out. Otherwise, however, purring frequently is a common occurrence in most cats, and you likely do not have anything to worry about when your cat purrs at you. Use the online form to book an appointment at your closest Heart + Paw location!

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Heart + Paw was founded in 2018 by Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. George Melillo, who currently serves the Mid-Atlantic area. Heart + Paw offers a combination of veterinary care, pet grooming, and dog daycare to help be a resource in your pet parenthood journey.

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