What is purring?

tortoiseshell_cat_on_chair

Purring is usually considered a sign of contentment, but there’s more to a cat’s purr than meets the ear.

While there are a number of different theories of how cats purr, the consensus among researchers seems to be that purring is the result of signals from the brain to the laryngeal and diaphragmatic muscles. Cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz.

Even though cats do purr when they’re content, purring can also be a sign of stress. Cats also purr when frightened or injured. In these situations, purring appears to function as a self-soothing mechanism.

Researchers at Fauna Communications found that the frequency of a cat’s purr covers the same frequencies that are therapeutic for bone growth and fracture healing, pain relief, reduction of swelling, wound healing, muscle growth and repair, tendon repair, and mobility of joints. It seems that with the purr, nature provided cats with their own built-in healing mechanism.

Purring doesn’t just heal the cat herself. Numerous anecdotal reports of cats being intuitively drawn to an injured area are testament to the healing power of the purr. But even without scientific evidence, who would argue the soothing quality of a cat’s purr?

Amber, shown in the photo above, purred more than any other cat I’ve ever known. She’d purr if you so much as looked at her. To this day, I miss her loud, almost constant purr. Buckley never purred while she lived at the animal hospital, and it was not until several months after she came home with us that I first heard a very faint purr from her. Allegra didn’t purr at all during her first year. Now I occasionally hear a faint purr from her, and it makes my heart smile each and every time. Ruby purrs loud and often – I think she’s trying to follow in Amber’s pawsteps.

Does your cat purr?

36 Comments on What is purring?

  1. Ada
    May 11, 2013 at 4:20 pm (6 years ago)

    Christine purrs frequently, though when I don’t feel well or am in pain she seems not to notice (or not to care!) She’s really very sweet though. When I went to college it was difficult to get used to sleeping without her being on my head, purring loudly. It’s so nice to have her living with me again!

    Reply
  2. Tyler Perkins
    September 30, 2012 at 11:51 pm (6 years ago)

    Everytime I get home from school and open my door my kitten come running over to me purring 🙂 I dont know how old my cat is because we found her abanded with her liter and we saved them and got to keep one. But like I said my cat comes running to me after school purring and it’s an extremely loud purr. I would pick her up and put her in my lap and just pet her. She would sit there and just purr and purr and purr until she knew I was done and even when I was done she would lay at my feet and just keep purring. My cat is a beauty and her name is Mady (pronounced Maddie) she is a real keeper!!!! 🙂

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 1, 2012 at 6:10 am (6 years ago)

      Mady sounds like a little purr machine, Tyler – what a sweetie!

      Reply
  3. Joanne Marie Allen
    September 17, 2012 at 7:32 pm (6 years ago)

    I love it when my cats purr, but 2 of my kittys purr so softly that you wouldn’t know it unless you feel it. Why do some purr very loudly, some softly, and some not purr at all? Ingrid, in your beautiful photo of Amber, I have the exact print on a pillow also, years ago I bought the fabric and a friend made me the pillow. 🙂 P.S. I see now that yours is a throw or quilt.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 17, 2012 at 7:36 pm (6 years ago)

      I don’t think anyone knows why some cats purr very loudly, and others not at all, Joanne. And yes, that is a quilt that a friend made for me.

      Reply
  4. Glogirly and Katie
    August 28, 2012 at 2:25 am (6 years ago)

    Katie purrs when she’s content and snuggling…albeit just next to me, never on top of me. Lap? forget about it. She also purrs when she’s stressed, like at the Vet. I always wondered what the explanation for that was….and now I know!

    Thank you!!!
    Glogirly

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 28, 2012 at 6:30 am (6 years ago)

      Ah, Katie is one of those lap-off-limits snugglers. Allegra is like that. Every once in a while, she’ll grace me with some laptime.

      Reply
  5. Tracy Dion
    August 27, 2012 at 10:55 pm (6 years ago)

    All of my kitties purr quite readily. In fact – and I just love this – most of them will purr and knead where they are if they see me turn and come towards them. Always makes me feel delightfully well-loved.

    Shared this to CatCentric.org’s FB, Pinterest and Twitter pages. ;-}

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 28, 2012 at 6:29 am (6 years ago)

      I love that, Tracy! I can see where it makes you feel very special.

      Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
  6. Carolyn
    August 25, 2012 at 10:02 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks so much Ingrid!

    I really like your post. Thanks for sharing. I like to here Nala purr… =D

    Reply
    • Carolyn
      August 25, 2012 at 10:05 am (6 years ago)

      Sorry for the wrong spelling, what i mean was i like to hear Nala purr. My family is actually going to plant some grass in our balcony (hope it will live) coz we’re planning to adopt more cats and kittens in the house. I’ve read an article in your page about grass thing and thank you so much about that =D

      Reply
  7. Bernadette
    August 22, 2012 at 11:05 pm (6 years ago)

    All these wonderful healers! When I had my gall bladder attack last summer all of them purred and kneaded all over my back, where it started, then on my abdomen until the kneading was too painful. And when I have, uh, menstrual cramps, they are the best little vibrating heating pads ever invented!

    All my cats have purred, though at different volumes, from Moses whose purr was a kind of breathy vibration to Jelly Bean who can be heard across the room.

    But I think Ruby does everything loud and often. She is so self-possessed and secure.

    Reply
  8. Esme
    August 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm (6 years ago)

    We are both purrers-I love listening to them purring while they sleep.

    Reply
  9. Savannah NanaMo
    August 21, 2012 at 7:42 pm (6 years ago)

    I do purr…when I am getting my morning or evening snuggles with Mom…but otherwise, no, I don’t. And I am only starting to purr loud enough for Dad to her me ‘cuz he has a little problem with his hearing. I was 5 when they “got me”…so I think maybe I unlearned my purr and maybe I can learn it back again with all their love…paw pats, Savannah

    Reply
  10. Charlene Faris
    August 21, 2012 at 5:51 pm (6 years ago)

    Ah, thanks, Ingrid, and everyone. Yes, Cheeto’s purr is priceless! Just now put my face on the top of his head. He then purrs instantly. It’s very sweet! He purrs the most and the loudest when I wake up and he is lying beside of me. That’s when he sort of roars. It is very smoothing and quieting. Love the stories about the kitties who help heal the cancers and hurts. God bless them all!

    Reply
  11. obsidiankitten
    August 21, 2012 at 4:57 pm (6 years ago)

    I love these purring/healing stories!

    Reply
  12. MaxtheQuiltCat
    August 21, 2012 at 2:54 pm (6 years ago)

    purring is good for everybuddy….

    hugs, Max, Bugsy, and Knuckles

    Reply
  13. Kelly
    August 21, 2012 at 10:58 am (6 years ago)

    All of my cats have been terrific at purring, regular purring, purring with squeakings (when really happy) and purring with cracklings (when really contented), purring with kneady paws, purring with blinky eyes.

    When I was little I thought it would be a good idea to put a purring cat on the chests of people with heart trouble for a very nice healing.

    Pretzel would purr over a body part seemingly at random and you’d start to notice that yes he was right that part does hurt. The only things I didn’t like was when he’d insist on purring on my tummy when it was upset, I know he was trying to help but it really made me sicker.If he didn’t sleep with me at night I knew someone else in the family was about to be sick.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 21, 2012 at 2:24 pm (6 years ago)

      I love all these stories of cats knowing intuitively which body part needs extra purr therapy! And I love the purr/squeak combo, Kelly!

      Reply
      • Kelly
        August 23, 2012 at 10:32 am (6 years ago)

        I always tell Oscar that his purr is so nice the angels stop to listen.

        Reply
  14. Heather
    August 21, 2012 at 9:37 am (6 years ago)

    My kitty Garfield had a very quiet purr. I had to feel under his chin to see if he was even purring. He usually was but it was very quiet. After my Dad had a stroke his right arm was paralyzed. When Dad came home Garfield would get on his lap and lay on the paralyzed arm and purr. 🙂

    My kitty now is Ellie and she has a LOUD purr. She purrs often and I love it! When she first jumps up in the bed at bedtime she purrs a lot and makes her “nest”. I love going to sleep to the sound of purrs!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 21, 2012 at 2:24 pm (6 years ago)

      Another story of a healer kitty. I love that Garfield would lay on your dad’s paralyzed arm, Heather. And I agree, there’s nothing better than being purred to sleep.

      Reply
      • Heather
        August 22, 2012 at 3:37 pm (6 years ago)

        Yes Garfield was a one of a kind. I always called him my Guardian Angel. 🙂 He lived from 1989 to 2007 and almost made it to 18. Because of my living arrangements I could not get another cat until this last Jan. after buying a house. I know have a sweet rescue cat named Ellie. She is always purring and giving me baths!

        Reply
  15. Bopeeps
    August 21, 2012 at 9:09 am (6 years ago)

    I have a dumb cat question 🙂 is the purring the actual sound or the vibration? Because when Rikki lays on my chest I can feel the vibrations but not really a sound. But with Lucy I can hear her loud and clear. On my days off, she will come up on lay on my tummy and purr away also when I say sweet nothings in her ear (bend down really close to her face and sweet talk her) she will purr.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 21, 2012 at 2:23 pm (6 years ago)

      I’m actually not sure whether the purr is an actual sound, or whether it’s just the vibration. Allegra is a very quiet purrer, and you can feel her purr more than you can hear it.

      Reply
      • Bopeeps
        August 22, 2012 at 12:07 am (6 years ago)

        I guess Rikki is a quiet purr-er. 🙂

        Reply
  16. Susan Long
    August 21, 2012 at 8:22 am (6 years ago)

    My Lucy had a hearty and robust purr. I had not been feeling well for quite some time and I laid on the sofa after work each evening, not really able to be up and on my feet so much. Lucy would always lay above me, her body wrapped around the top of my head, and she would purr in my right ear. This went on for months and months, even while sleeping in my bed. I would pull her downward and she would fight to get right back up by my head. Finally, I was diagnosed with a very malignant brain tumor on the right side of my brain. I had surgery and the majority of the tumor was removed. She never tried positioning herself around my head again. I’m certain she knew I was terribly sick, she was always very in-tune with how I was feeling physically and emotionally too.

    Reply
    • Bopeeps
      August 21, 2012 at 9:05 am (6 years ago)

      That’s amazing

      Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 21, 2012 at 2:22 pm (6 years ago)

      What an amazing story, Susan. I have no doubt that she was trying to heal you.

      Reply
  17. Texas, a cat in New York
    August 21, 2012 at 7:32 am (6 years ago)

    When I was a kitten, I would purr every time someone would touch me. The vet complained she couldn’t hear my heart beat 😉
    Now I purr now and then. My human likes to put her head next to my body to hear and feel me purr and that generally makes me purr louder. Unless I’m mad at her for some reason, then she gets no purr. Seriously.

    Reply
    • Bopeeps
      August 21, 2012 at 9:11 am (6 years ago)

      I love these purr stories , Ingrid. 🙂

      Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 21, 2012 at 2:21 pm (6 years ago)

      We humans love hearing and feeling the purr, Texas – it’s nice that you reward your human, unless you’re mad at her.

      Reply
  18. Charlene Faris
    August 21, 2012 at 3:19 am (6 years ago)

    Hi, yes, yes, my kitty purrs a lot. And like yours, sometimes when I just look at him. If I pick him up and hold his face to my face, he starts purring like a choo choo train. He extends his left paw and just pushes it against my face and just purrs up a storm! I love it!!!

    Reply
    • Bopeeps
      August 21, 2012 at 9:10 am (6 years ago)

      Love it:)

      Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 21, 2012 at 2:19 pm (6 years ago)

      Oh, that is so sweet, Charlene!

      Reply
    • Levi Fuentes
      May 11, 2013 at 5:58 pm (6 years ago)

      My mom’s cat, Houdini, would purr when you looked at him. Houdini was a feral Ragamuffin that my mom tamed down in two weeks (she calls herself the “cat whisperer”). Ironically, he didn’t like to be held for too long but he did enjoy it when either my mom or I would lay next to him on the bed and pet him. I’m notorious for “bugging” cats but it wasn’t “bugging” to him – it was getting attention and affection.

      My mom’s other cat, Curi (pronounced “coody”) and my sister’s cat, Corragio, would purr when THEY were in their affectionate mood.

      Reply

Leave a comment

First time visitors: please read our Comment Guidelines.