Why Doesn’t My Cat Purr?

Purring is one of the most recognisable sounds cat’s use in communication. There are several reasons why your cat might not purr. In order to understand why your cat doesn’t purr, you first need to understand the mechanism and physiology of purring.

Purring Physiology

While we’re still not 100% sure how the cat purr is produced, there is the widely held opinion that the vibration of a cat’s vocal cords causes purring when they inhale and exhale. Purring is complex and involves synchronous messages from the brain to the larynx and diaphragm

Domestic cats purr at a frequency of 25 to 150 vibrations per second, as a response to a range of circumstances.

It’s also interesting to note that lions are not able to purr, whilst cheetahs, pumas, ocelots, servals and tigers can. Is it thought the structures surrounding these cats’ larynxes aren’t stiff enough to produce a purring sound.

Why Do Cats Purr?

Classically purring has been associated with cat’s showing contentment, affection and can be seen more as a learned behavioural response in some cats to encourage more affection from owners. This is not the only function, with many benefits and uses to cats resulting from purring:

  • New-born kittens are both blind and deaf so they rely on the vibrations of their mother’s purr to guide them toward her to suckle and get milk.
  • It has also been found that the specific sound frequency in the range produced by cat’s purring is therapeutic for bone growth, pain relief, and wound healing. So, cats may purr to heal themselves.
  • While cats do purr when they’re content, they also purr when they’re in pain or under stress. It’s thought that purring may release endorphins to help pacify themselves during these times and make them feel calmer and less stressed. Given this, it is important to remember that if your cat seems unhappy in their other behaviour and body language, but are purring, there could still be a problem.

Benefits Of Cat Purrs for their owners

The frequency of a cat’s purr has been proven to help cat owners recover from various ailments and improve mental health. In fact, cats are often used as therapy animals for individuals in the hospital. Some people believe There has been a lot of scientific evidence come forward suggesting a cat’s presence as a companion, and their purr specifically, may be attributed to:

  • lowering stress and blood pressure
  • decreasing the healing time of human bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments
  • helping the recovery of infection and swelling
  • decreasing the risk of heart attack (it’s still unclear whether this is due to the cat’s purr specifically, or is a benefit of having a pet reducing stress more generally)
  • having a cat (or other type of pet) has been proven many times to be a positive influence and improve mental health for people.

Reasons Your Cat May Not Purr

It is common for all domestic cats to purr regularly throughout the day, however, in some instances, your cat might not purr. Cats will have variable tones and volume of purring, all being individuals, so some cats do purr, but very quiet and less obvious than others. Some cats that are scared, not very confident, stressed or new to a home may take longer to come out of their shell and be relaxed and comfortable enough to start purring around their owners.

Whilst it is not that common, some cat’s simply do not purr. Whilst we are not 100 % sure of the reason, it may be due to subtle anatomical difference in their larynx. In these cases, your cat will usually find another way of communicating with you like a change in body language or a facial expression. Please don’t be concerned as your cat is still perfectly fine even if they don’t purr

If your cat has purred regularly in the past and has suddenly stopped, it could be a sign something has happened and they should be seen by your regular vet. A sudden stop in purring could suggest that your cat is stressed or injured/unwell.

As a purr usually suggests satisfaction, if your cat has stopped purring it could signify that they are unhappy, potentially stressed by something and staying on high alert, unable to fully relax and feel content as per usual. Changes around the home, to their normal routine or other stressful events can cause stress and a decrease in purring in cats. Medical causes such as pain or feeling sick will make cats stressed and unhappy, sometimes resulting in less purring. Although some cats may purr to assist with pain control as previously mentioned.

Medical issues specific in location to the mouth, pharynx, larynx/vocal cord region and trachea can cause inflammation, growths/swellings and other changes to the vocal cord area. This can sometimes cause pain when purring, which makes them stop, or can affect the vibrations of the vocal cords resulting in sound and tone of the purr being different, so a change in your cat’s purr volume or pitch or on odd sound with the purr can sometimes also suggest an issue.

If this you notice a sudden stop or change in the tone/volume of your cat’s purring, especially if it is accompanied by other behaviour changes or symptoms, we’d recommend contacting your local Greencross Vet.

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Can I Teach My Cat To Purr?

If your cat has never purred it may be unlikely to be able to teach your cat to purr as it is simply something they are unable to physically do.

However, if your cat is able to purr, certain behaviours can help illicit a purr from your cat. Cats can be motivated to purr to express satisfaction and contentment. To encourage your cat to purr, it can be helpful to stroke, gently scratch, cuddle and make your cat feel comfortable by reducing any stresses and building trust. They will need a motivation/desire to want to express themselves through purring and feel comfortable and safe with you to be confident and express themselves.

By stroking your cat in areas it enjoys, such as behind its ears around to under its chin or on its back, your cat will likely purr in satisfaction. Cats also often enjoy cuddles and stroking when they’re resting or napping, as well as being spoken to softly or sung lullabies. Beyond this, making sure your cat is generally just comfortable with plenty of soft surfaces, bedding and in a stress free, calm environment can also encourage purring.

Other Ways Your Cat Can Communicate With You

Like most domesticated animals, cats have adapted different behaviours to communicate with humans. They learn to express themselves through body language and vocalisations, letting their feelings be known, including stress, satisfaction/contentment and even ask for things they want such as food, petting or play.

Meowing is an obvious form of cat communication, only used to communicate with humans. Cats develop unique variations on the sound, communicating with their human family. As they learn to communicate with their owners over time, some cats develop a large range of tones and pitches to express themselves. Meows, much like purrs, are known all-purpose sounds and can be performed by cats to signify a range of emotions, situations and desires.

Body language is another way your cat will communicate with you. Their tails are the most common way a cat’s body will express themself. Like dogs, if the cat’s tail is hung low and tucked between their legs, it is usually a sign of anxiety, stress or fear. This can be seen in combination with a tucked up body, low to the ground posturing and flattened ears expressing distress and a protective posture. Unlike dogs, a wagging or swishing tail often indicates agitation, frustration or aggression. Cats standing comfortably with their tail held up high in the air, with tail fur smooth and flat, are generally feeling confident and comfortable and can be seen to do this as they approach their owners at times trying to engage and get their attention. An upright tail with the fur puffed up suggests your cat is instead distressed and scared and can be seen with other body posturing that makes the cat “look bigger” as they feel intimidated and uneasy, so standing facing direction of perceived threat side on, puffed up fur and tail, standing tall and ears flat to their head.

So, is a cat not purring strange?

Whilst it is most common for cats to purr, some cats simply don’t. Not purring could simply be a matter of your cat’s physiology, such as a vocal cord or respiratory system issue meaning they cannot produce a purring sound.

However, if your cat has regularly purred and has suddenly stopped, and you’ve noticed other symptoms or behavioural changes, we’d recommend contacting your local Greencross Vet Clinic to determine whether something is wrong.

If you’re concerned about your cat’s behaviour or health, visit your local Greencross Vets.

Cat Not Purring FAQs

Why Does My Cat Purr So Much?

If you find your cat is purring regularly, it is likely they are simply communicating positive emotions such as satisfaction and contentment. Cat’s usually purr throughout their day whilst they groom, relax and sleep. It is common for kittens to purr constantly as they experience nursing.

However, in older cats, constant purring could be a symptom of self-soothing due to stressful situations or an attempt to alleviate pain. If your cat has suddenly started purring regularly, more than usual, we’d recommend monitoring any other symptoms or behavioural changes.

Why is My Cat Purring in Their Sleep?

If you have noticed your cat purr in their sleep from time to time, it is much like when human’s talk in their sleep. Cats purring in their sleep is a response to the events happening in their dreams. With a good dream, your cat’s purr will suggest their contentment and with a bad dream, it could suggest distress. They purr most commonly when very content and often purr as they settle in to sleep, so may also be purring as they are in a light sleep/falling asleep.

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