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Why do kittens purr?
Cat Fun FactsCats CareCats Behavior

Why do kittens purr?

The purr is one of the distinctive and very endearing characteristics of the feline. Purring is a component of coziness and warmth in the house. But what does it mean when our cat purrs? Perhaps in such a way, she wants to tell us something or warn us?

For many years, a cat's purr was considered a response to positive emotions. Scientists put it on par with other means of communication - for example, meowing and hissing. But what exactly made the cat purr wasn't clear. After all, animals could rumble when sitting alone or suddenly vibrate at the sight of a relative.

In recent years, research on cats has increased, and the topic of purring has been discussed and actively debated in a new way. According to cat behavior experts Elisabeth von Muggenthaler, Karen Overall, and a team at the University of North Carolina, there are several reasons why cats want to purr. Experts say cats purr to communicate, to calm down, or to heal from an injury or illness.

Next, we'll look at a few common reasons your cat may be purring at this very minute.

Purring as a sign of approval or gratitude

If the cat is lying comfortably in your lap and receiving attention and affection, purring sounds will appear as a sign of approval and pleasure. Body language shows complete satisfaction: the pet's eyes are slightly closed, and the tail is laid aside or wrapped around the body, remaining motionless.

At these moments, the cat may begin to touch the surface with its front paws, slightly releasing its claws. From the outside, it may seem that it's stomping in one place, but this is an instinctive manifestation called the "milk step." As babies, kittens massage their mother's milk nipple to increase their milk supply. And in adulthood, they remember the old habit in moments of complete relaxation.

Cats living in groups behave the same way: if pets live together and help wash each other after eating or before going to bed, they begin to purr, demonstrating their favor.

Purring as a response to stress

If a cat enters an unfamiliar room, it may purr out of a sense of anxiety. It's the reason why many pets purr when they move or visit the veterinarian. Similar behavior is noted after a fight for territory with a neighbor's cat, running away from a larger predator, or during childbirth.

According to one of the popular versions, the purring of a cat promotes the production of a hormone that reduces the feeling of fear in animals and humans. Regular contact with a cat reduces the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases by almost a third. And all thanks to the amazing ability of pets to relieve anxiety and stress with rhythmic purring sounds.

The test results show that a cat's purr normalizes heart rate and blood pressure. And if, at the same time, you stroke your pet's fur, this will contribute to the production of oxytocin - the hormone of happiness.

Purring as a way to communicate

Some cats purr to communicate. For example, to respond to praise, to greet you warmly from work, or to show dissatisfaction.

Purring as a way to maintain dialogue is usually intermittent and non-rhythmic. But, for better understanding your cat, it's crucial to pay attention to body language. For example, if a cat purrs and raises its tail vertically, it invites you to play. Or, if it rounds its eyes and presses its ears, it warns of an attack. If it lies on its back and exposes its stomach, it demonstrates defenselessness and complete confidence.

Purring for attracting attention

Kittens begin to purr from the second day of life. This skill is needed to attract the mother cat's attention and to remain unnoticed by predators. 

Adult animals continue to purr instinctively to attract attention. For example, to wake up the owner who overslept for work or to remind him of a missed feeding. In this case, the volume and rhythm of the sound will depend on the situation. Scientists have recorded the purring of cats while they're stroked and when they're about to feed, standing by the refrigerator, to prove this fact.

When listening to these recordings in the presence of the research team, even those who had never kept cats noticed the difference. Purring when stroking was lower and deafer. But, when luring prey - more sonorous, similar to the cry of a child.

Purring as a therapy

According to scientists from North Carolina, rhythmic cat purring not only helps to relax but also heals. Studies show that domestic cats purr at 25-150 Hz, corresponding to the therapeutic frequencies used in physical therapy. The sound waves the body feels are similar to ultrasound and can accelerate the tissue regeneration process: heal wounds and tendon injuries, restore bones in case of fractures, and reduce swelling. This ability helps cats recover quickly after a fall from a height, childbirth, surgery, or a fight with other predators. That's why cats purr after a fight or spay and sometimes when they see a sick relative since empathy is inherent to humans and animals.

Cats can also purr in their sleep. According to the official research, this helps support the musculoskeletal system, which is a long time without movement, and replaces the physical activity lacking in pets without access to walking.

It sounds incredible, but the purring of cats is also useful for the human body. That's partly why sessions of feline therapy are carried out in rehabilitation centers and hospices worldwide. And pet owners note a decrease in headaches and body aches after just a few minutes of cat "songs."

Purring as part of estrus

Many owners wonder why cats stomp on their knees, purr, and bite sharply. Specialists in cat behavior explain this as a manifestation of an unrealized sexual instinct, especially if the animal is sterilized. Also, a female cat can attract the attention of a male cat during mating games in such a way. Usually, purring during sexual hunting is accompanied by growls, loud cries, and inviting postures. Therefore, you shouldn't be surprised why a purring cat abruptly jumps up and runs away from the cat. It's just part of the mating game. 

Purring as a symptom of the disease

Usually, a quiet purr is associated with the restoration of vital resources and relief from stress. But sometimes, the constant rumbling indicates the development of a serious illness. For example, being infected with a feline coronavirus infection may lead to developing infectious peritonitis in a pet. It's usually called "purr disease."

A specific rumbling sound appears simultaneously with bloating due to damage to the blood vessels and the reflux of fluid into the peritoneum and lungs. In this case, the animal needs emergency medical care. Until recently, this disease was considered incurable, and sick animals were subjected to euthanasia.

However, currently, more and more recoveries are happening. Therefore, when a disquiet rumbling appears, you should immediately show the cat to the doctor.

Observe your beloved cat and be attentive to its signals. After all, maybe a cute purr can be an alarming sign that your pet needs help. Only your care and love will help your cat always purr with pleasure and joy.