There are few things as relaxing as a cat purring on your lap. Some cat’s purrs are so quiet and subtle you can only feel rather than hear them. At the other end of the spectrum, you have high-octane kitties who sound for all the world like a jet engine when they purr. A cat’s purr is something of a mystery; there are many theories but no clear consensus as to how, exactly, cats produce that particular vocalization. Purring is not unique to domestic cats: even some big cats, like cheetahs, purr to express contentment.
Why is my cat purring so loudly? Some cats naturally purr more loudly than others. If your cat is purring more loudly than usual, she may be especially happy. A cat’s purr may also get louder with age. Sometimes conditions such as respiratory ailments can change the pitch and volume of a cat’s purr.
- What makes cats purr?
- Why do some cats purr more loudly than others?
- Why do cats purr in their sleep?
- Why would a cat purr and then suddenly bite you?
- What does it mean when your cat is purring very loudly?
You probably have a lot of questions about your cats and their purring. That’s why you’ve landed on this page. Fortunately, we have the answers you’re looking for. Just keep reading to find out everything about your cat’s purr and why it’s so loud. You’ll find out what makes cats purr and whether a loud purr can be a sign of a health issue.
Why is my cat purring so loudly?
There are many reasons your cat might have a louder purr than you’re used to. One is simply that your cat is getting older and her body is getting bigger, with a more developed Kittens start purring within a day or two of their birth. It’s one of the first vocalizations they learn to make as they begin to communicate with their mother and their litter-mates. Kitten purrs tend to be high and very quiet because kittens’ bodies are so small; a kitten’s vocal apparatus hasn’t developed and there isn’t much space for the sound to resonate inside their minute throats and chest cavities. As kittens get older and bigger, their vocalizations become louder and more full-throated. This can be especially noticeable in larger breeds and those noted for being “talkative”.
Another reason for a cat’s purr being louder than usual is that the cat is simply happier than usual. A cat encountering a new favorite food, a rescue kitty who is experiencing safety and comfort for the first time in a long time, or a cat who is finally secure enough to relax with you after a period of adjustment, may all purr more loudly than you’d previously noticed.
If you hadn’t heard that specific cat purring before, she may simply be louder than the cats you’ve previously encountered. Some cats are naturally louder than others. I’ve found that my British Shorthair kitties tend to have quieter voices (although they can be very chatty in their own quiet ways), while larger cats like Maine Coons have deep, loud, rumbling purrs.
Unfortunately, a cat’s purr sounding loud or different can also suggest an infection or another health issue. I’ve sometimes noticed cats purring more audible when they’re coming down with a cough or cold. Purring can also be used to self-soothe when a cat feels sick, is in pain or is experiencing distress.
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What does it mean when a cat purrs really loud?
To understand why your cat might be purring louder than usual, you need to understand more about why cats purr.
Generally speaking, we associate a cat’s purr with comfort, happiness and contentment. Cats typically purr when they’re in a good mood, feeling relaxed and happy: when they’re being petted, when they’re being fed or cared for when they see a human they’re attached to and other pleasant situations.
Purring can also be used to express affection. A cat who comes to you for attention and love will often “reward” you by purring and snuggling with you. Tiny kittens purr as a means of communication between themselves and their fellow cats or familiar humans. From a couple of days old, kittens purr while kneading their mother’s side with their paws as they suckle. This is called the milk tread and it helps stimulate the mother’s milk production. Cats generally continue this rhythmic kneading into adulthood.
Some cats also use purring as a way to soothe themselves when they’re feeling anxious or are in pain. Purring has a number of beneficial effects, including the release of natural chemicals called endorphins. These have a painkilling and stress-relieving effect, helping to calm the animal and reduce pain levels so that they’re more bearable. Purring has other physiological effects, including relaxing the cat’s muscles and promoting healing. Although research into this area is still ongoing, a purring cat may recover from an injury or illness more rapidly and suffer less distress.
Contact with a purring cat actually has a secondary effect on other cats, as well as other animals and humans. Petting a cat while she purrs or even simply listening to cat purrs can relax and soothe anxious humans, as well as helping to promote physical well-being. Some research shows that listening to a cat purr can reduce high blood pressure and promote healing in the case of injury or illness. Sounds with the frequency of a cat’s purr have even been shown to encourage bone regrowth in the case of a fracture.
Cat purring louder than normal
If your cat happens to be purring louder than normal, it’s not necessarily a sign that anything is wrong. Your cat may simply be in an excellent mood and showing you how happy and contented she is by purring hard. Loud purring is only a matter of concern when there are other signs that something is wrong.
The purring associated with distress or discomfort is generally not just louder than normal purring but has other unusual qualities. The cat may stop engaging in kneading and other physical displays of affection, such as rubbing and nuzzling or clambering onto your lap. Instead, she might keep her distance, stand aloof, twitch her tail and show other warning signs of an impending attack. Purring that turns rapidly into growls, especially when the cat is handled, is a sure sign of discomfort or distress. This type of purring is often louder than normal.
In general, if your cat appears relaxed and comfortable there is no need to worry about the significance of a loud purr. If your cat purrs more loudly than usual while showing other signs of stress (such as the aforementioned twitching tail or flattened ears), it can be a sign that something is bothering her. It may be that she doesn’t like some activity you’ve been engaging in — for example, some cats purr loudly when picked up, not because they like it but as a way to calm themselves during a stressful experience.
If there’s something odd about the way your cat is purring, check to see if your louder-than-usual pet has symptoms such as a fever, mucus discharge from the eyes or nose, or signs of an injury such as broken skin or swelling. In these cases, you obviously need to seek medical help.
Cat purring loudly at night
A cat who purrs loudly at night is unlikely to be expressing discomfort or stress. It’s much more likely that she’s simply expressing her pleasure at getting to curl up happily on the end of your warm bed and snuggle with you as you go to sleep. This is usually a pleasant time, with the restful purr of a happy cat helping to send you off to sleep. If you have one of those cats who seems to be equipped with their own personal jet engine, however, it may be less than ideal.
If her purring is loud enough to bother you, there’s not really much you can do about it other than oust her from the room. Cats can’t really be taught to purr more quietly; they have their own internal volume settings that aren’t really amenable to change. I would recommend simply investing in a pair of good ear-plugs or making your cat sleep outside your bedroom at night.
One step you could take is trying to ensure that your cat dozes off to sleep fairly quickly. Cats do purr in their sleep but it’s usually much quieter than the purring they produce when they’re awake. Before bedtime, spend some time playing active chase games with your cat. The objective is to wear her out so that she is more likely to curl up and go to sleep than to spend hours purring like a Formula 1 racing car and kneading your stomach with her paws when you’re trying to rest. Tempt your cat with feathered teaser toys, laser pointers and other toys to chase. Provide her with cat trees and a kitty habitat, and encourage her to use them before bed. Once you’ve spent time getting her to burn off her nervous energy, give her a small meal so she’ll be relaxed and apt to doze off.
Why do cats purr?
The exact reason for a cat’s purr is something of a mystery. There are some good hypotheses as to why cats produce that particular sound but nobody really knows for sure. Purring is exclusive to certain species of felids (the family that includes cougars and domestic cats) and some viverrids (a family of animals very similar to cats that includes civets and genets). Some species outside these families also make purr-like sounds but seem to use a different mechanism than cats do.
The best current hypothesis is that cats purr by using the folds of the larynx to make their glottis (an organ in mammalian throats) open and close very quickly while they breathe in and out. There appears to be a system in the feline brain that’s capable of sending a rapid series of signals to the larynx so that the muscles fire rhythmically and produce the familiar “purrrRRRrrr” of a contented cat.
As we’ve discussed, purring is a form of communication. Unlike yowling, screeching or hissing, purring is usually directed at members of the cat’s family or colony. Purring tends to be low in pitch and volume, making it hard to hear over distances but easy to pick up when the cat is close by.
Various situations trigger purring. We’ve seen how baby kittens use their tiny purrs to encourage their mother’s milk production and how contented cats use purring to convey their positive emotional state. Cats also purr when they’re less than happy, such as during a visit to the vet. Mother cats often purr loudly when they’re giving birth — not because having kittens is a particularly pleasant experience but as an instinctive way to soothe their pain and stress. Purring is a highly versatile vocalization that can convey many different things and performs many different functions.
Why do cats purr and then bite you?
Many cat owners will relate to this experience. You’re playing happily with your feline friend; she’s purring away and seems to be having a high old time; and then suddenly you’re bitten or scratched, apparently without warning. Why did she do that? A lot of people feel as if the cat has tricked them or is simply being spiteful. The reality is usually rather different.
One reason that a cat might be purring one moment and biting you the next is that you switched to an activity she didn’t like. If she was enjoying those head-pats and you suddenly went to tickle her under the chin, on the tummy or in another sensitive spot, she may try to stop you by giving you a warning nip. Your cat might also be masking an injury that you inadvertently poked. Cats are amazing when it comes to putting a brave face on bruises, strains or even broken limbs but might react defensively when you touch the affected spot.
Another reason for a cat suddenly nipping at you is that you’ve accidentally overstimulated her. Cats tend to build up a lot of energy when they’re interacting in certain ways, which can sometimes manifest as inappropriate biting or scratching. You might notice this when stroking your cat: it may be that if you stick to her head and shoulders, she’s relaxed and happy but then becomes twitchy when you start stroking from head to tail. You can pick up on her change in the mood if you know what to look for. The tail, in particular, is a dead giveaway. If it starts to lash and flick around, do something less stimulating such as strokes that end at her shoulders instead of extending all the way down her back.
A cat may also nip your hands or arms when she wants to play. Hands are not good toys for cats so remove yours from her range of operations and substitute a more appropriate item, such as a slip of ribbon or a teaser toy.
Why do cats purr when they sleep?
Cats very often continue purring after they’ve fallen asleep. It’s not 100% clear why but it seems that the part of the cat’s brain involved with controlling the purr reflex can remain active even when your cat is fast asleep. It’s quite possible for a cat to be snoozing deeply on your lap or in her bed, eye closed, paws twitching in a dream, and still be purring.
It may also be that your cat isn’t completely asleep and is simply in a very calm and relaxed state. If you watch her face, her eyes may open briefly to peek at you and then close again. This is the kitty equivalent of a kiss: she is showing you that she trusts you completely enough to let her guard down around you.
Cats purr when they sleep because they’re experiencing pleasure and comfort. It’s hard for a nervous or uncomfortable cat to go to sleep; they need to be in a state of relaxation, physically warm and safe enough to let down their guard, and not hungry or in pain. When the conditions for sleep are met — a warm, secure spot, a loving companion to keep watch and no discomfort or pain — it’s natural for cats to purr as they will be happy. They’ll keep purring as they drift off to sleep and may not stop until they wake up again.
Cats also seem to purr if they’re enjoying a pleasurable dream. Just as they may kick and fidget when their dreams involve chasing or hunting, a cat who is dreaming of some pleasant experience may also begin to purr. It’s a little like humans talking in their sleep, an unconscious vocalization related to the dream state. Maybe she’s dreaming about the supper she had earlier or about curling up happily on your lap.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.