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Does My Cat Only Purr When He's Happy?

Stephanie Dube Dwilson
Cats purr for a variety of reasons.

Why do cats purr? Often, your cat purrs because he feels happy and content. But, this isn't the only reason he purrs. Sometimes cats purr when they are in distress or not feeling well. To understand why your cat is purring, you need to watch his body language for clues.

Cats Purr When They're Happy and Content

Most of the time, your cat purrs because he's happy and content. You might notice that he curls up on your lap, kneading and purring with his eyes half-closed. This is a sign of pure joy and love. As a kitten, your cat kneaded while nursing.1 In many ways, kneading and purring shows he feels he's with a safe parent.

Cats also do the "knead and purr" combo to make a blanket or cat bed extra comfy. If he's kneading near you, he might be getting ready to snuggle down.

A purr alone can also be a sign of joy, even without the kneading. Your cat might purr when you take out his favorite toy, give him a treat, or pet his head.

Your Cat May Purr as a Request

A cat can develop a unique communication with her owner, varying the types of meows and purrs she makes based on your responses. Some cats use purrs as a type of "request" because you respond to those purrs.

Your cat may use her purr as a way of asking you to do something. For example, if your cat is snuggled up next to you all night, she might start to purr and knead when you're getting ready to get up in the morning. This could be a request for you to stay in bed longer.

Some cats purr to request food because they purred as kittens to help their mothers find them when it was time to nurse.2 Interestingly, higher-frequency purrs are more commonly associated with food requests (and they just happen to be closer in frequency to a baby's cry).3

Some Cats Purr When They Are Distressed or Sick

Not all purrs happen because your cat is happy. Sometimes a cat purrs when he's feeling distressed or sick. A purr could also be a cat's way of soothing himself when he's not feeling well. If you're petting your cat and he's ready for you to stop, he might purr as a warning for you to stop petting him.4 (Watch his eyes and general irritation levels for clues.)

Other Cats Purr While Exploring

Some cats purr when they're feeling extra curious or adventurous, like when they're exploring a new area.5 If your cat isn't allowed in your bedroom, for example, and she manages to sneak inside, she may purr up a storm while she's there.

Not All Cats Purr the Same

A cat's purr can vary quite a bit from cat to cat. Some cats purr loudly and frequently. Others purr quietly, and you have to listen closely to hear them. Still others may not purr at all. This doesn't mean the cat is unhappy; some cats simply don't purr.

You Can Help Your Cat Feel Happier and More Secure

Your cat's emotional health (or, as we say, e-meow-tional health) is of paramount importance. Comfort Zone products can help your cat feel happier, which can make your cat want to purr even more. These drug-free calming solutions are effective in and around the home and on the go. Try placing a Comfort Zone Calming Diffuser in the rooms where your cat spends the most time.

Purring is just as much a part of your cat's language as his meow or hiss. The purr may be a sign of joy or even a sign of feeling sick. Pay attention to your cat's body language and the surrounding circumstances when he purrs. Over time, you'll understand the meaning of his purrs quite clearly.

1. American Animal Hospital Association. "Is My Cat's Kneading Normal?" AAHA.org, https://www.aaha.org/your-pet/pet-owner-education/ask-aaha/is-my-cats-kneading-normal/.

2. Dowling, Stephen. "The Complicated Truth About a Cat's Purr." BBC, 25 July 2018, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180724-the-complicated-truth-about-a-cats-purr.

3. Laliberte, Marissa. "Why Do Cats Purr? The Reasons Behind It." Reader's Digest, 21 March 2020, https://www.rd.com/article/why-do-cats-purr/.

4. The Three Tomatoes. "Why do cats purr then bite you?" TheThreeTomatoes.com. https://thethreetomatoes.com/the-full-facts-why-do-cats-purr-and-then-bite-you.

5. Dowling, Stephen, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180724-the-complicated-truth-about-a-cats-purr.

Category: Cat Behavior | Comfort Zone