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Why, How, and When Do Cats Purr?

We’ve all heard the soft hum our cats make when we scratch them in their favourite spot or when they’re chomping on their favourite kibble. But have you ever stopped and wondered why cats purr in the first place? Do they only purr when they’re happy? Is there a physiological benefit to purring? Let’s find out!

When do cats purr?

Cats purr for many reasons and not all of them are good. The most recognizable purr is one of content. Cats will often look relaxed with their eyes slightly closed when they are purring from contentment. Their tails are also often still when they are happy, a wagging tail may be a sign your cat is purring for another reason. Cats may sometimes purr when they are hungry or are needing something. Experts have observed that cats often meow or cry between purring as a telltale sign that they are in need of something. Cats may even purr when they are in pain, anxious, sick, stressed, in heat, giving birth or grooming each other.

What are the healing properties of purring?

Dr. Elizabeth Von Muggenthaler, a bioacoustician, suggests that the low frequency vibrations of purring are a “natural healing mechanism.” Purring may even be linked to the strengthening and healing of bones, wounds and pain and even ease breathing. According to Dr. Clinton Rubin’s research, bones can heal when exposed to sound frequencies between 20-50 Hz, like the cat’s purr. Fascinating, right?

How do cats purr?

There has been much debate in the scientific community about how cats purr. However, there does seem to be a common consensus: cats release their sweet hum while they’re both inhaling and exhaling using their laryngeal and diaphragmatic muscles. The air vibrates over the laryngeal muscles of the larynx causing the sound that we know as the purr.

To conclude, we’ve discovered that our furry friends have a great superpower that has many functions. Cats may purr when they are content, but they are most likely purring for communication and self-healing purposes. Scientists still have many questions about the purr which makes it all the more interesting!



The Felid Purr: A healing mechanism External – Elizabeth Von Muggenthaler presented this paper at the 2001, 142nd annual Acoustical Society of America, American Institute of Physics, International Conference.

Thompson WR, Yen SS, Rubin J. Vibration therapy: clinical applications in bone. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2014;21(6):447-453. doi:10.1097/MED.0000000000000111