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What Does it Mean When a Cat Purrs?


Have you ever heard your cat purr? If so, you may have wondered why cats make that unique sound, or what it means when they do. There are lots of explanations as to why cats purr and many of them appear contradictory at first glance, but there are a few things we know for sure about this common feline behavior. Purring, also known as felid vocalization (FVA), happens in many cat species and is produced during both voluntary and involuntary behaviors.

4 Possible Reasons Why Cats Purr

Now that we know what a cat purr sounds like, let’s take a look at why cats do it in the first place. Scientists have proposed several reasons why cats purr, with varying degrees of acceptance. Let’s look at each one in turn and weigh their plausibility. Then we can decide which makes the most sense to us!

Cat Purrs

Domestic Cats Can't Hurt People

Cats still have claws, despite the fact that they've been domesticated, and we've developed a fondness for them. Some experts believe that when cats purr loudly enough for people to hear, they are expressing discomfort in an attempt to alert us to a problem. Because cats can only purr when their vocal chords are relaxed, if they start making noise when injured or ill, it could be a cry for aid. In any event, if your cat appears calm and pleased, there's no need to be concerned; if you feel something is amiss, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

What Does it Mean When a Cat Purrs?

How Often Do They Purr?

Although there’s no specific answer to how often cats purr, they do so more when they are comfortable. Cats will also purr when they’re happy, but can also make small noises that sound like meows. Kittens and young cats can purr at high frequency, however, as cats age, their voices deepen and so does their ability to produce lower-frequency sounds. So even if you think your adult cat is older and no longer purring as much, remember that it just might be their voice getting deeper with age instead of them having stopped completely.

The Anatomy of a Cat's Vocal Cords

Many people think that cats purr because they are happy, but that's not always true. While we often associate purring with pleasure and contentment, felines will also purr when frightened or in pain. That said, there are plenty of times when your cat may seem extremely content, and even more likely to be in some physical discomfort. Why do cats purr anyway? Read on to learn more about why domestic cats make these sounds - and how you can tell if your feline friend is uncomfortable.

Domestic Cats Sleep Around 16 Hours per Day

If you have an indoor cat, you already know they are curious creatures that love to play and also love to sleep. Cats are natural predators, and although domesticated cats do not have to hunt for their food, they still retain many behaviors that serve them well in nature. In general, cats sleep anywhere from 12 to 16 hours per day! That’s about twice as much as dogs (which usually need 8 hours of sleep per day). All those extra Zzzs could be what make cats so lovable—all-around cuties. Scientists suspect that one reason why cats need so much shut-eye is that, unlike dogs and humans, they only experience rapid eye movement (REM) during deep sleep.

Cat Purrs

Why Don't Big Cats Like Lions and Tigers Have Tufts on Their Ears, Whiskers on Their Faces, Or Paws That Look Like Hands?

The first thing you should know is that some big cats have these tufts, whiskers, and paws. The cheetah (which isn't really a big cat) has all three. The clouded leopard also has whiskers on its face, tufts on its ears, and five toes on each paw (it's in between lions and tigers). Why don't other big cats have them? There are two reasons: 

  1. They aren't necessary for survival; 
  2. Having so many extras makes life harder by complicating how they move around their environment. 

A lion's job is to catch prey, not pick up things or sift through the dirt as our hands do. Having extra tufts on their ears would get in the way of running quickly after prey.

How Do Cats Make Sound Without Vocal Cords?

Science has uncovered some pretty cool facts about purring, like how cats can make those mysterious sounds without even having vocal cords. Cats don’t have larynxes, making them unable to produce vowel sounds. But they still manage to make all sorts of different meows and chirps. The cat’s voice box—which is located in its throat—is made up of two flaps that are called vocal folds (like in humans). As air comes out of their lungs, these flaps open and close, creating vocalization that has little melodic quality but makes for a very soothing sound. These noises also serve as means of communication between mother cats and kittens after birth so that both can find each other easily.

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