Long believed to be a cat’s way of telling us that all is well, there’s more to purring than meets the ears.

Two lovely cats in spring

The sound of a feline purring contentedly is music to a cat lover’s ears, but have you ever wondered just why cats purr? If so, you’re not alone, scientists have long been asking the same question, and while numerous studies have shed some light on the practice, experts have yet to agree on a single definitive answer.

You talking to me?

It is generally accepted that purring is an emotional response. A cat’s purr seems to be one of the tools they use to express their feelings, particularly when they are feeling relaxed and happy.

But cats also purr when they’re distressed, afraid or in pain, and even when giving birth, so it could be that it’s a self-soothing behaviour rather than exclusively a show of contentment.

It’s probably a means of communication, too. Purring starts when kittens are just a few days old, leading some to speculate they’re “talking” to their mother and encouraging her to feed them.

And as any cat owner will attest, cats also communicate with their human family members. They often employ a hybrid purr-meow, known as a “socialisation purr”, when they want our attention. (Fun fact: cats meow to humans, but not to other cats!)

How purring happens

Every cat purrs differently. Some felines have a loud, low purr, while others are high pitched and very quiet.

It’s not known precisely how cats purr, though one popular theory is that they use the muscles in their voice box to rapidly expand and contract the vocal folds up to 30 times per second. The resulting vibrations as they breathe in and out are what we hear as purring.

Interestingly, no cat is able to both purr and roar – which is no doubt good news for Australia’s three million domestic cat owners! They’re not the only purring animals either – rabbits and guinea pigs have also been known to purr.

If you’re interested in finding out more about your cats purring, visit your local Greencross Vets.