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Why Do Cats Purr? It Doesn’t Always Mean They’re Happy


Ever asked yourself, “Why do cats purr?” You’re not alone. Plenty of cat owners out there are curious about why their precious pets make that adorable sound. As it turns out, the reason for a cat’s purr is a little more complicated than you might think.

According to the Library of Congress, cats first learn how to purr when they’re baby kittens — just a couple of days old. Experts suggest that this purring lets a kitten’s mom know that “I am OK” and “I am here.” This form of communication also signals a bond between a cat mom and her baby. But as any cat owner knows, purring often continues well into adulthood for kitties.

Many feline fans recognize purring as a sign of contentment, and according to The Humane Society, it usually is. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this is not always the case. Experts think that a cat’s purr serves a wide variety of functions — with contentment being just one of them. 

For humans to understand this phenomenon a bit better, Cat Behavior Associates compares a cat’s purr to a human’s smile: “People smile for a variety of reasons. People smile when happy, nervous, unsure, or when trying to make someone else feel comfortable. It’s that way with the purr as well.”

In the most extreme cases, some cats may purr while they’re sick — even deathly sick — which is understandably baffling to humans who care for these kitties. But according to the pet food company Purina, purring may actually be a good self-comforting behavior for cats during their most distressing moments in life.

The Humane Society suggests that during a cat’s most trying times, a purr may even be comparable to a human baby sucking his or her thumb as a way to relax. It is thought of as a way for kitties to rest and repair themselves as needed — perhaps a feline version of self care.

But if your kitty is looking and feeling well, chances are that your pet’s purr is simply another way for him or her to communicate with you. Your cat might even have a crafty way of getting you to fill up the food bowl with a little technique called “solicitation purring,” also known as a cry embedded within a purr. 

At the end of the day, when the kitty talks, it’s time to listen up!

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