Are Cats Always Happy When They Purr?
The purr of a cat has long been perceived as a sign of contentment and happiness. We often stroke and scratch our cats, hoping to bring out that soft vibration that sends tingles down our spine. But is a cat’s purr always a sign of happiness? There are, in fact, many other purposes of a cat’s purr.
How do cats purr?
When kittens are born, the mother cat purrs during labour, which releases endorphins, possibly to manage the pain. This purring becomes crucial to the kittens’ survival: As these newborns are blind and deaf, they rely on the vibrations of the mother’s purr to feed and keep warm. Kittens learn how to purr in just two days, and use it to communicate with each other and the mother cat.
You may often find your cat kneading and purring at the same time. Interestingly, this kneading and purring action is learnt from the time they were newborns sucking on their mother’s teats. To feed, the kitten presses and flexes its paws to stimulate the milk flow. This action is thus referred to as kneading, and kittens would often purr while doing this. Even in adulthood, many cats would knead soft objects and purr – a reminder of the warmth, comfort and safety of being near mom.
Purring occurs during inhalation and exhalation. It is created when the brain sends a message to the laryngeal muscles, causing them to vibrate together with the diaphragmatic muscles. Some purrs are soft and low, you might only feel it. Other cats tend to purr loudly, loud enough to be heard from across the room.
Why do cats purr?
Apart from contentment and happiness, cats purr for a variety of reasons. Here are some of them.
Pain relief and healing
As mentioned above, mother cats purr during labour to manage the pain. The release of endorphins from purring mitigates pain in the body. The vibrations are also known to promote the healing of wounds, tendons, muscles and bones. Perhaps this is why cats are thought to have nine lives.
Making a request
Cats often purr when they want something from us, such as food or affection. This purr is usually followed with a vocalisation that sometimes sounds like crying.
Fear and stress
For similar reasons that cats purr when in pain, they also do so when fearful or distressed. The aforementioned release of endorphins helps to reduce the feeling of fear and stress. Veterinarians have reported purring to be common in cats at the hospital, and at times can be quite audible.
So the next time you hear or feel your cat purr, don’t be too quick to assume it is exhibiting contentment and happiness, assess the situation to make sure you are reading your cat’s behaviour accurately. This could make all the difference between a life and death situation.