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Why Do Cats Purr When You Stroke Them? 6 Reasons

reviewed by a veterinary box

If your purr-fect little kitty is purring – melodious, vibrating, continuous sounds – it’s a sure sign they’re content. It’s also the most common sound cats make compared to other sounds, such as meowing, chirping, hissing, growling, and chattering. Many people are asking themselves, why does my cat purr when I pet her?

When your feline is all curled up in the sun or sitting on your lap, you may hear a tender reverberation as they breathe in and out. It’s arguably one of the most recognizable signs of contentment.

There’s nothing more rewarding than the soothing sound of your furbaby purring away next to you. Stroke your kitties fur, give a gentle rub under the chin, or a scratch behind their ears, and you’ll be rewarded with heavenly sounds.

But, ever wondered, ‘why do cats purr when you stroke them’? Before we dive in, let’s answer the question, what does it mean when a cat purrs when you pet them?

cat purring while being stroked


Why Do Cats Purr When You Stroke Them? The How

Purring involves the laryngeal muscles within the cat’s larynx (vocal cords). These muscles move, dilate, and constrict, combined with the help of their diaphragm (the muscle at the base of their chest cavity). Purring is not always a consistent sound. It may vary in tone, frequency and loudness or may occur intermittently.

As your feline inhales and exhales, the vibrating muscles move at 25 to 150 per second, causing a separation of the vocal cords. This produces a delightful, soothing purr.

person strokes black and white cat sitting in lap why do cats purr when you stroke them

6 Reasons Why Cats Purr When You Stroke Them

Felines purr for several reasons. Learning the body language associated with purring can help ensure your furball will continue to enjoy the synergy of stroking her.

Although conventional wisdom assures us that purring is a sure sign your kitty is content, it does not necessarily mean they are always in a good mood. Our felines can purr for different reasons, such as pleasure or pain.

We may never know what your kitty is saying, but let’s look at some reasons why our little furballs purr when you stroke them.

FYI: Purring is not only seen in cats. Some primates and even squirrels can purr.

cat with dark face being tickled under chin

1.    They’re in a Happy Mood

More often than not, cats purr when they are relaxed. This usually happens when you stroke them, and in this case, meaning they are happy or are feeling sociable.

If your cat is comfortable, eyes half-closed on its back, and tail mostly still, it’s safe to assume they are in a happy mood.

Adult cats purr when they socialize with their brothers and sisters, with people or objects they love. Another reason for this demonstration of blissfulness is when they do something that feels good, such as stroking or petting.

Cat rubs the hand

You may find your furbaby purring when you stroke her or when she cuddles up on your chest, or before she dozes off in her favorite bed.

Our domestic kitties have sweet spots where they enjoy being stroked and petted the most. These include:

  • Between the ears,
  • Alongside the cheeks,
  • Down the spine (be mindful of overstimulation),
  • And under the chin.

If your cat purrs while being stroked and petted in these areas, we can believe it is happy and is feeling content.

Ginger cat-scratching itself

2.    For Kitten-Mother Connection

Kittens are born deaf and blind and feel vibrations from their mothers as a form of communication. They start to purr when they are just a few days old to serve as a contact between the kitten and mother and form a bond.

These adorable little bundles purr to let their mama cat know where they are and that they’re okay.

Because kittens cannot orient themselves, mother cats use purring to lure their kittens closer to keep them warm and safe, or when it’s mealtime. They can also use their soft sounds as a cradlesong to their kittens.

young-maine-coon cat lying down

3.    It’s a Sign of Distress

Purring doesn’t only mean your kitty is a blissful ball of fluff rolling on its back, sending soft rasp vibrations out for your attention. Some cats purr when they are distressed or feeling anxious.

They could feel stressed from sudden changes in their household, such as a new pet, a new human member, or even home remodeling.

Young bearded guy sleeping on sofa at home

They also make these sounds when they are feeling afraid or need some help. Purrs can help your kitty calm themselves down during a stressful time, such as giving birth. The low-frequency vibrations of purring can help ease tension and breathing – how nifty?

woman with cat mask and cat in bed

4.    Purr Healing Powers

Apart from feeling stressed, our kitties can also purr when they are severely ill, injured, or in pain. For our loving felines, purring releases endorphins, which in turn can help reduce pain and heal injuries. The Purr has a powerful healing and rejuvenating action.

Cats will often purr on their own without the aid of stroking. When you think your cat is purring in contentment while dozing off, it may be self-repairing. Purrs can help your kitty feel better, promote healing, and alleviate pain – that’s magic!

woman asleep with grey cat in her arms from a distance

Studies have shown that purrs vibrate at low frequencies between 25 to 150 HZ. These frequencies can act as a natural healing mechanism and treat a range of ailments, such as:

  • Bone and wound healing
  • Ease muscle and tendon pain
  • Ease breathing
  • Muscle growth
  • Help with joint flexibility
  • Assist with muscle growth
  • Help lessen swelling

If you suspect your furbaby is in pain or has an injury, you should stop petting them and check for signs of any discomfort, such as hunching over or limping.

They can develop problems from the impact of high falls – though, in contradiction, their purring is probably why they recover so well.

Woman and cute cat sitting on rocking chair in the front of the

5.    They’re Overstimulated

Our felines may purr when you stroke them because they are feeling overstimulated. Keep an ear out for warning signs like abrasive, loud purring, biting, and other hostile actions.

Cats are sensitive to touch and can quickly become overstimulated with your constant petting. They may tolerate your stroking, but when purring becomes aggravated and loud, it’s best to leave them.

ginger tabby with very fluffy tail outside on a lead
Who wouldn’t chase this tail?

Who wouldn’t chase this tail?

Take a look at some warning signs your kitty may be overstimulated:

  • The tail is swishing or thumping
  • Lowering or flattened ears
  • Hissing or growling
  • Trying to escape
  • The body is tense
  • Her pupils are dilated
  • Squirming while you’re stroking her
  • Claws protrude
  • Showing other aggressive behavior

If you pick up on any of these warning signs, you may want to stop petting or stroking your cat.

Kitten licking finger

6.    They’re Purr-Suasive

Cats can use purring to aid in more ways than one. A ‘solicitation purr’ (combined with a cry or meow) helps your adorable kitty obtain something they want from their human – either food, affection, or to play with a toy.

If you’ve ever noticed your kitty is swirling around you purring, becoming especially fervent around mealtimes, it’s no coincidence. Our feline friends have learned to exploit their adorable sounds when they’re hungry or to get something they want.

Sleeping young man with fluffy red cat

They combine these sounds with a ‘mew‘ that sounds something like a crying baby – how dramatic.

If you suspect your purr-meowing kitty is hungry, stop stroking her and observe her actions. Hungry domestic felines usually approach their food bowls, so pay attention.

Note: as with all forms of feline communication, it’s important to consider the context and look for other signs of their mood to fully understand what’s going on.

Happy young woman swapping the TV channels , relaxed on the bean

FAQs About Why Do Cats Purr When You Stroke Them

Are Cats Really Happy When They Purr?

Most of the time, gentle purrs indicate that your cat is satisfied and content. This usually takes place when they are close to their human or getting a lot of affection. That being said, it doesn’t ALWAYS indicate happiness.
Cats also tend to purr when they are feeling stressed or hungry. So if your cat is purring in situations where they are unlikely to feel happy, it may be time to feed them or pet them until they relax.

How Do You Know If Your Cat Loves You?

Cats are strange creatures and can sometimes be difficult to read. So how do we really know if a cat loves us? Cats generally like their own space, so if a cat spends a lot of time in your company, you can take this as a sign that you are forming a bond.
If your cat lies on your lap and spends time curled up next to you, then you can be sure that your cat loves you because it takes a lot of trust for a feline to behave in this way.

Why Do Cats Put Their Butt In Your Face?

Believe it or not, it is a sign of affection when cats put their butt in your face. It means that they are showing their love for you, and they also want you to pet them. While it may seem strange in human body language, this is one of the many ways cats show affection for you.

How Do Cats Say Sorry?

Cats might not be able to feel the emotion that comes with being sorry, but if they do feel bad for making you upset, they show you with affection. They will sidle up close to you and rub their head against you, much like they do when showing love for you.
This is pretty much as close as cats get to saying sorry, so if your cat does this to you, then know you should be grateful for your furry friend.

How Do I Tell My Cat I Love Him?

There are many ways you can show your cat that you love them. Trying to speak their language is one way cats love to be told you care. Try to mimic their meows if you want to show them you care.
Cats sitting near you and blinking slowly is another sign of love, and doing the same to them will likely go down well. Taking care of your cat well by feeding them, grooming them, and giving them regular affection will also tell your cat that you love them dearly.

What Does It Mean When a Cat Puts Their Head Under Your Head?

Cats love to rub their heads on their humans, and they do this for a couple of reasons. It is their way of showing affection; they do this by rubbing their scent all over you. This also helps them mark their territory, so they claim you as their human.

A Footnote on Why Cats Purr When You Pet Them

Figuring out the reason your furball baby is purring is often welcomed by your cat. The pleasant raspy sound that erupts whenever your fur baby is petted leaves countless questions on why kitties purr when you stroke them.

Our kitties may seem aloof most of the time, but they are social creatures and communicate with us through various vocalizations – one being purring.

Beautiful young girl in pajamas hugs her cat lying in bed, top view

All these sounds are messages they are trying to convey. Keep your ears out for the next time your kitty is ready to talk.

The next time your kitty curls up next to you and starts to purr away, you might stop to think about what your furry friend is trying to tell you.

what does it mean when a cat headbutts you - ginger cat snugglin
grey cut being cuddled under the chin by a human

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