cats & critters

Ask a Cat Mom: “Why do cats purr?”

Anyone who has ever been around a cat is familiar with “purring” — that strange yet charming vibrational sensation.

Why do cats purr?

The answer may surprise you — nobody knows for sure!

Despite conductive research and modern scientific understanding, a cat’s purr remains a true mystery to this day. There are many “theories” behind the concept, but no distinctive proof.

Photo by Japheth Mast on

The overall consensus is that cats purr when they are happy. Most of us naturally associate purring with positivity — a purring cat is satisfied, joyful, and content.

Purring often occurs when a cat is being petted, or sitting in our laps, or playing with toys, or being given treats. Purring is often accompanied by other signs of “happiness” in a cat such as slow blinking, smoothed out fur, and other body language that shows relaxation. Some cats even purr in their sleep.

However, some may be surprised to know that purring can also be linked to negative feelings. Animal researchers say that cats may purr in distressing situations. Because of this, it is inferred that cats may use purring as a “coping mechanism” in order to calm themselves down. This can be compared to human behavior — when we are feeling extra anxious and then repeat to ourselves “everything is going to be okay” or we take deep breaths — it’s a survival technique.

And so, purring itself is positive — but just because a cat is purring does not automatically mean it is happy. In some cases, it could be a very stressed cat trying to calm itself down.

Now, there’s another factor at play too — excitement. Just like anxiety, excitement is an overwhelming and overstimulating feeling that can be quite uncomfortable. Excitement is a “positive” form of stress. And so, a cat may use purring as a way to calm itself down — not because it’s upset, but because it’s too excited!

If your cat is purring, it is most likely…

  • In a calm and relaxed state.
  • Feeling anxious and upset — using purring as a way of calming down.
  • Feeling excited and overstimulated — using purring as a way of calming down.

Again, a purring cat is either calm, or trying to make itself feel calm. In that way, you could say that purring itself serves as a “natural medicine” or a “Xanax of the mind” for cats! How cool is that?!

What is most fascinating about a cat’s purr is the way it causes the cat to vibrate, the way you hear it not directly from the mouth, but through the entire body. Next time your cat purrs, look at accompanying body language and environmental factors to figure out what its mind state is. Pay attention to just how phenomenal this magical sensation is!

My expertise comes from my animal science bachelor’s degree, as well as a lifelong experience of mothering many cats. For serious and life-threatening issues, please refer to your local vet.

Do you have a question about cats? Please ask in the comments (or email at and I will write a post about it! Let me know if you would like to include your name (or blog) or if you prefer to remain anonymous!


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