Honestly, we’re not sure that there’s a better feeling than hearing and feeling our feline friend begin to rumble and purr. It’s one of the most soothing sounds there is, and it’s even believed to convey some health benefits, such as, lower blood pressure.
So, when your pointy-eared buddy doesn’t purr for you, it may cause concern and even sting a little. You may start wondering whether your cat is dissatisfied, stressed, or maybe even unhealthy.
But before you can understand why your cat may not purr, you need to understand why cats purr in the first place.
Why Do Cats Purr?
This might seem like something that scientists should understand very well by this point. But, surprisingly, there’s no concrete answer as to why cats purr.
While there are certainly cats who purr as a sign of contentment, there are also cats who purr when frightened or threatened. Kelly Morgan, DVM and Clinical Instructor at the Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine at UIUC, has speculated that purring could serve an equivalent, multifaceted purpose like smiling:
“People will smile when they’re nervous, when they want something, and when they’re happy, so perhaps the purr can also be an appeasing gesture,” Morgan says.
Researchers at the University of Sussex in Brighton, U.K. have also decided to explore why cats purr. In the study, they analyzed recordings of 10 cats’ purrs and discovered that cats sometimes add a vocal twist (somewhere between a cry and meow). The team, led by Karen McComb, PhD, suggests cats may be tapping into a mammalian response for nurturing offspring when they do this in order to get our attention.
But, that’s not the last explanation of why cats purr. Cats are also known to purr when in pain, when they’re ill, when they’re in labor, or even when near death. From an evolutionary standpoint, however, this seems like a mistake. Why would cats want to indicate when they’re in such vulnerable positions?
Researcher Elizabeth von Muggenthaler of the Fauna Communications Research Institute of North Carolina (FCRI) suggests that a cat’s purr can offer a kind of built-in physical therapy to help reduce stress and even heal them: “Because cats have adapted to conserve energy by means of long periods of rest and sleep, it is possible that purring is a low energy mechanism that stimulates muscles and bones without using a lot of energy.”
Muggenthaler’s position is corroborated by Professor Leslie A. Lyons, PhD, at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. She notes that both domestic cats and some wild cats purr at strong frequencies of 25 Hertz and 50 Hertz, respectively.
According to Lyons, “research on frequencies that promote bone growth, healing of fractures, pain relief and relief of breathlessness and inflammation, show that the respective frequencies are between 20 Hertz and 150 Hertz these are indeed healing frequencies. All cat species have purr frequencies between 20 Hertz and 150 Hertz, with the exception of the cheetah. This corresponds exactly with the best healing frequencies.”
Lyon also notes that purring can reduce stress while also reducing the symptoms of dyspnoea in both cats and humans.
How Do Cats Purr?
At one time, it was thought that a cat’s purr was produced from the blood surging through the inferior vena cava in their heart, but recent research suggests that it’s actually produced in their laryngeal muscles. This hypothesis is further supported by the lack of observed purring in cats with noted laryngeal paralysis.
The precise mechanics of the purr sensation are still not exactly known, but scientists have a general understanding of how cats purr. The most accepted hypothesis is that a region of the cat’s brain signals its laryngeal muscles to vibrate. Simultaneously, the cat will begin inhaling and exhaling and sending a stream of air through their vocal cords, causing them to vibrate. This vibration is ultimately the pleasant sound that we humans have grown to adore!
Why Doesn’t My Cat Purr?
It’s a common feeling among pet parents that a lack of purring from their little furball may mean their cat is unhappy, stressed, ill, or angry. However, this is often a misguided feeling. Cats who are not content tend to exhibit those feelings outwardly, in a more demonstrative way.
But just as there are a litany of reasons why cats would purr, so too there are a number of different details that may stop a cat from purring. For example, some cats may not purr because they were separated from their mothers before they were ready. Since kittens learn many behaviors from their family, kittens who are separated too early may not learn to purr.
Additionally, any number of physiological issues may prevent your cat from purring including a sore throat, inflammation of the pharyngeal or esophageal muscles, or a physical injury. Anxiety or fear may also be the culprit of a conspicuously quiet kitty.
There’s also the fact to consider that some cats just don’t purr. Instead, a non-purring feline may use facial expressions or body language to communicate with his owner. Other cats may purr so quietly and subtly that their owners simply don’t pick up on it.
How Do I Make My Cat Purr?
Cats display a complex range of emotions and each has its own unique personality. However, they’re still cats and, luckily, they can be persuaded with some easy tricks.
If you want to hear your cat purr, first break out their favorite treats. Your cat may start purring to entice you to toss him a treat, and he may keep purring as he enjoys the treat.
Cats who love to be brushed may also signal a wish to be groomed by purring. If your kitty loves to be pampered, then simply showing them the brush may be enough to get them to start purring.
Another surefire way to keep your cat purring with delight is to keep them well taken care of at all times. If you’re a caring pet owner, be sure to visit our cat page to find out more about how to keep your feline friend happy and healthy.