Any cat owner can tell you that petting a purring cat is a therapeutic experience. There’s something about it that instills a sense of comfort, and some studies suggest that it can even lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. But, why do cats purr?
A cat’s purr originates in the voice box. The air passing across what are referred to as “false vocal cords” is what triggers the vibrational sound. This most often occurs when a cat is happy, but contentment isn’t the only reason for feline purring. Cats may also make this same noise when injured, giving birth, or when they want something (like dinner). Some experts equate purring with the human smile because people don’t always smile out of happiness. Sometimes smiles are a natural reaction to nerves or a way of dealing with an uncomfortable situation.
Chances are, you already know your cat’s purring habits pretty well. If your cat is purring while snuggled up in your lap, it’s pretty obvious that she’s comfortable and happy. If an early morning purring session is accompanied by loud meowing, your cat is probably letting you know it’s time for breakfast.
If purring is ever accompanied by strange behavior, unusual vocalizations, or symptoms of pain, be sure to consult with a veterinarian.