Why Does Your Cat Purr?

Content Cat
Many content cats purr when in contact with a person or another cat.

To cat lovers, the feline purr is one of the most exquisite sounds on earth. Joyous and soothing, a cat’s purr can calm us in the midst of stress and relax us when we need to unwind. All cats — domesticated and wild, big and small — engage in this mysterious activity. But why? Read on to find out.

How Cats Purr

In domesticated cats, purring is produced during inhalation and exhalation, when air is forced through the glottis (the space between the vocal cords). A pause at the transition between the two is so brief, it makes the purring sound as if it is one continuous hum. While the specific mechanics of purring are still somewhat of a mystery, one theory is that a buildup and release of pressure occurs as the glottis opens and closes, resulting in separation of the vocal folds, which produces the sound.

Why Cats Purr

Nursing, contentment and sexual engagement are some of the conditions under which cats may rev their motor. Kittens purr when nursing as they knead their mother’s belly to stimulate the flow of milk. They also purr while being  groomed. Purring is a care-seeking behavior that helps establish and maintain a close relationship between a mother cat and her kittens.

Although cats may purr as they rest comfortably in a warm place, it is more typical for them to purr when in contact with a person or another cat. But simple tactile contact with an inanimate object may also inspire the sound: Your cat may be inclined to purr when he’s sliding his body against the corner of a wall or when he’s rolling around on the carpet. Experts believe in these situations, it's often a sign of contentment.

In addition to purring during positive activities, cats also purr under duress. Fear, anxiety, stress, injury and recovery are other circumstances that elicit purring. The purring may be related to maintaining comfort even under extreme pain.

Whatever the cause, listening to a cat purr is one of the most relaxing activities imaginable. Purring has a psychological and social benefit and helps to reaffirm the relationship you have with your cat.

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