Why doesn’t my cat purr?

Purring is one of the most identifiable sounds that cats make to communicate. If your cat isn’t purring, it’s essential to understand the mechanics and physiology behind this behavior to uncover the reasons.

The Physiology of Purring

Although the exact mechanism of purring is still somewhat of a mystery, the predominant theory is that purring is produced by the vibration of a cat’s vocal cords during both inhalation and exhalation. This complex process involves coordinated signals from the brain to the larynx and diaphragm. Domestic cats purr at frequencies between 25 to 150 vibrations per second, responding to a variety of situations.

Interestingly, not all big cats can purr. Lions, for example, lack this ability, whereas cheetahs, pumas, ocelots, servals, and tigers can purr. It is believed that the structures surrounding the larynx in lions are not rigid enough to produce a purring sound.

Reasons Cats Purr

Traditionally, purring has been linked to contentment and affection, and many cats seem to use it as a learned behavior to solicit more attention from their owners. However, purring serves multiple purposes and offers numerous benefits to cats:

– Guidance for Newborns: Newborn kittens are blind and deaf, relying on their mother’s purr vibrations to locate her for nursing.
– Self-Healing: The frequency of a cat’s purr is therapeutic, promoting bone growth, pain relief, and wound healing. Cats might purr to aid in their own recovery.
– Stress Relief: Cats also purr when in pain or stressed. It’s believed that purring releases endorphins, which help soothe and calm them during distressing times. Therefore, if your cat appears unhappy but is still purring, it may indicate an underlying issue.

Benefits of Cat Purrs for Owners

A cat’s purr doesn’t just benefit the cat; it can also have positive effects on their owners. Scientific evidence suggests that the presence of a purring cat can help people recover from various ailments and improve mental health. Cats are often used as therapy animals in hospitals due to their soothing presence. Specific benefits attributed to a cat’s purr include:

– Reducing Stress and Blood Pressure: The calming effect of a cat’s purr can help lower stress levels and blood pressure.
– Accelerating Healing: Purr frequencies can expedite the healing of human bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
– Aiding Recovery: Purring may assist in the recovery from infections and swelling.
– Heart Health: There is evidence suggesting that having a pet, including a cat, can reduce the risk of heart attacks, although it’s unclear if this is directly due to purring or the general stress reduction from pet ownership.

Overall, having a cat or other pet can positively influence mental health, contributing to a happier and healthier life.

Reasons Your Cat May Not Purr

Domestic cats typically purr regularly throughout the day, but there are instances where a cat might not purr. Each cat is unique, and the tone and volume of their purring can vary significantly. Some cats purr very quietly, making it less noticeable. Cats that are scared, lack confidence, are stressed, or are new to a home might take longer to feel relaxed and comfortable enough to start purring around their owners.

While it is uncommon, some cats simply do not purr. Although the exact reason is unknown, it might be due to subtle anatomical differences in their larynx. In such cases, your cat will usually find alternative ways to communicate, such as through body language or facial expressions. There’s no need to be concerned; your cat is still perfectly healthy even if they don’t purr.

If your cat has regularly purred in the past but suddenly stops, it could indicate that something is wrong, and a visit to your vet is recommended. A sudden cessation of purring might suggest that your cat is stressed or unwell.

What does purring do to your cat?

Since purring often signifies satisfaction, a cat that stops purring might be unhappy or stressed, remaining on high alert and unable to relax fully. Changes in the home environment, alterations to their routine, or other stressful events can reduce a cat’s tendency to purr. Medical issues such as pain or illness can also cause stress and a decrease in purring, although some cats may purr to self-soothe when in pain, as previously mentioned.

Specific medical problems in the mouth, pharynx, larynx/vocal cord region, and trachea can cause inflammation, growths, or other changes that affect the vocal cords. This can make purring painful or alter the sound and tone of the purr. A noticeable change in your cat’s purr volume or pitch, or an unusual sound when they purr, could indicate an issue.

If you notice a sudden stop or change in the tone or volume of your cat’s purring, especially if accompanied by other behavioral changes or symptoms, it is advisable to contact your local veterinarian for a check-up.

Do All Cats Purr?

While purring is a common behavior among cats, not all felines are equally vocal. Certain breeds, such as the Russian Blue and the American Shorthair, are known for their quieter demeanor and may not purr as frequently as others. Moreover, some cats simply do not purr at all.

Each cat has its own personality, and purring might not be their preferred method of communication. Instead, a non-purring cat might use facial expressions or body language to express needs or affection. Sometimes, the purring might be so soft and subtle that it goes unnoticed.

If your cat doesn’t purr, there’s no need to worry. A non-purring cat that otherwise appears healthy and shows no adverse symptoms is not necessarily in pain or unhappy. It might just not find it necessary to purr when content, hungry, or seeking affection.

Importantly, the absence of purring does not mean your cat lacks affection for you. Cats have many other ways of showing their love, such as headbutting, kneading, and licking.

However, if your cat suddenly stops purring or exhibits other behavioral changes, it could be a sign of an underlying issue. Cats may stop purring abruptly due to pain, stress, or illness. It’s crucial to monitor your cat’s behavior and seek veterinary attention if needed.

Can I Get My Cat to Purr?

Encouraging a cat to purr can be challenging, as some cats are naturally more vocal than others. Here are a few tips to see if you can trigger purring:

– Petting: Try petting your cat under its chin, on its back, or behind its ears.
– Gentle Talk: Speak softly to your cat or sing a lullaby, but avoid direct eye contact, which can be seen as aggressive.
– Cuddling: Lie next to your cat when it’s napping and gently stroke it.
– Comfortable Environment: Provide a soft, cuddly blanket and stroke your cat while it kneads.

Even if these methods don’t prompt your cat to purr, what matters most is giving your cat plenty of love, gentle strokes, and positive interactions to ensure it feels happy and secure.

Is Purring the Only Form of Cat Communication?

Cats have a rich repertoire of communication methods beyond purring. They use various vocalizations and body language to express their needs and emotions.

Unlike dogs, cats have a wide range of vocal sounds. In the late 19th century, a professor named Alphonse Leon Grimaldi even created a dictionary of cat sounds, identifying 17 distinct noises. While his work is no longer scientifically accepted, it underscores the complexity of cat vocalizations.

Cats also communicate through body language. For example:
– Upright Tail: A relaxed cat.
– Swishing Tail: Curiosity.
– Bushy Tail: Aggression or fear.

By paying attention to your cat’s unique communication style, you can better understand its needs and strengthen your bond. Whether through vocalizations or body language, your cat has a lot to say if you know how to listen.

How Else Do Cats Communicate?

Cats have a variety of communication methods beyond purring. Here are a few ways your feline friend might be trying to tell you something:

– Meowing: Cats don’t usually meow to each other, but they know it’s a sound that gets humans’ attention. Your cat might meow to greet you, ask for food, or let you know they want some attention.
– Body Language: A cat’s posture and movements can say a lot about how they’re feeling. For example, a cat with their tail up and ears forward is usually happy and confident, while a cat with their ears flat and tail tucked might be scared or upset.
– Grooming: If your cat licks you or themselves, it’s a sign of affection and trust. Cats groom each other to strengthen their social bonds, so if your cat grooms you, they consider you part of their family.
– Purring: While purring is often associated with contentment, cats also purr when they’re in pain or anxious. Pay attention to your cat’s other body language cues to understand what their purring might mean in different situations.

Like most domesticated animals, cats have adapted various behaviors to communicate with humans. They express themselves through body language and vocalizations, conveying feelings such as stress, satisfaction, contentment, and even requests for food, petting, or play.


Meowing is an obvious form of cat communication, used exclusively to interact with humans. Cats develop unique variations in their meows to communicate with their human family. Over time, some cats develop a wide range of tones and pitches to express themselves. Meows, much like purrs, are versatile sounds that can signify a range of emotions, situations, and desires.

Body language is another crucial way cats communicate. Their tails are particularly expressive. For example, a cat with its tail hung low and tucked between its legs is usually anxious, stressed, or scared. This often accompanies a crouched body posture and flattened ears, indicating distress and a protective stance. Unlike dogs, a wagging or swishing tail in cats often signals agitation, frustration, or aggression.

Conversely, a cat standing comfortably with its tail held high and fur smooth is generally feeling confident and comfortable. Cats often exhibit this behavior when approaching their owners, seeking engagement and attention. An upright tail with puffed-up fur suggests the cat is distressed and scared. This is often accompanied by other defensive postures, such as puffed-up fur, standing tall, ears flattened, and positioning themselves sideways to appear larger in response to a perceived threat.

How Can I Tell My Cat Loves Me?

Cats might not be as demonstrative with their affection as dogs, but they still have ways of showing they care. Here are a few signs your cat loves you:

– Kneading: When a cat presses their paws into something while kneading, it’s a sign of contentment and relaxation. If your cat kneads you (or your clothes, bed, etc.), it means they feel safe and comfortable around you.
– Head-Butting: Cats have scent glands on their cheeks, so when they rub their face against you, they’re leaving their scent behind as a way of marking you as part of their territory. It’s a sign of affection and ownership.
– Eye Contact: Direct eye contact with a cat is a sign of trust and affection. If your cat blinks slowly while looking at you, it’s called a “cat kiss” and means they feel relaxed and comfortable in your presence.
– Following You Around: Cats are independent creatures, so if your cat chooses to follow you from room to room or snuggle up next to you, it’s a sign that they enjoy your company and feel secure around you.

So, Is a Cat Not Purring Strange?

While it is common for cats to purr, some cats simply don’t. Not purring could be a matter of your cat’s physiology, such as an issue with their vocal cords or respiratory system that prevents them from producing a purring sound.

However, if your cat has regularly purred and suddenly stops, accompanied by other symptoms or behavioral changes, it might indicate a problem. In such cases, it is advisable to contact your local Greencross Vet Clinic to determine whether something is wrong.

Why Is My Cat Purring in Their Sleep?

If you’ve noticed your cat purring in their sleep from time to time, it’s akin to humans talking in their sleep. Cats purring in their sleep is a response to the events happening in their dreams. When your cat experiences a pleasant dream, their purring suggests contentment, whereas during a bad dream, it could indicate distress.

Cats commonly purr when they are very content, often purring as they settle in to sleep. Therefore, they may also purr as they enter a light sleep or while falling asleep.