The Cat Purr: Everything You Need to Know


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Your cat makes a range of magical (and not-so-magical) sounds and the purr is probably the one you love best! In this article, we explore whether the cat purr is nearly as peaceful as it sounds. Then we’ll dive into cat language and other questions cat-loving Kiwis have, like whether cats can speak English 💬 and if mum cats purr to communicate with their kittens.

We’ve got tips on how to teach your cat to respond to human words, too. Have you got your thinking cat on? Because we’re about to get started right meow!

The science behind the cat purr 🐱

There’s no special structure in the feline body that produces the purr sound; it’s a cat thing. Purring involves the rapid movement of the muscles of the larynx (voice box), according to this study, combined with the movement of the diaphragm. The muscles move at around 20 to 30 times per second.

It’s an assuring, non-stop sound, continuing through the inhale and the exhale. Cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz. Pretty paw-some, huh?

Cool fact: A study from the University of Sussex found that cats can vary their purr 🔊 based on their needs. There was a marked difference between the acoustic quality of purrs made by cats when they attempted to solicit food from their owners and when they were relaxed or being petted.

There are several physical benefits of having a cat or dog. People who interact with cats often and who tune into their soft purrs have lower blood pressure and a 40% lower heart attack risk.

A University of Sussex study found that cats like this one can vary their purr based on their needs.

Are cats really happy when they purr?

Not always. While we commonly interpret purring as a happy kitty, that’s not always the case. In fact, cats are known to purr at various stages of calm and distress, including when they give birth and when they’re injured.

Want to be a better cat parent? Ask yourself if your fur baby is telling you one of the following…

What a cat purr might mean

“I am sooo happy!” – You guessed it, purrfect bliss. But hang on, it could also mean…

“Pretty please, can you give me…?” – A vocalised purr can be a way of your cat asking you for something, like food, for example. How polite! According to research, the “feed me” purr has a “high-frequency component, reminiscent of a cry or meow”. This has an effect on us humans, making us feel a sense of urgency to respond!

“Not now, please. Bonding with my babies” – Mother cats are famous for their blissful expression and the rumble of love. In this instance, it’s all about the mummy-kitten connection. Kittens can purr when they’re only a few days old and it is believed that the vibrations help mother cats and kittens communicate at this early stage.

“Just healing myself here” – Vibrations that purring creates can help to:

  • Heal broken bones and open wounds. You read that right! Various studies have shown that specific sound frequencies can improve bone density and promote healing
  • Build muscle and repair tendons
  • Diminish pain and swelling
  • Make breathing easier

Watch this video with Dr Cath Watson and her feline assistant, Squeak, to find out more about why cats purr: 

Do mother cats talk to their kittens?

Yes! From the moment they’re born, mother cats communicate with their kittens in a variety of ways.

Mother cats have a unique way of communicating with their kittens, and it’s truly amazing to observe. From purring to body language, scent, vocalisations, and eye contact, mother cats communicate with their kittens in a variety of ways. There’s so much to cat language; have a look:

Cat purr

As we mentioned earlier, mum cat and her kittens purr to one another to communicate and bond. Purring is a form of communication that mother cats use to show their kittens that they’re happy and content. The whirring sound can also soothe the kittens and provide a calming presence. Learn more about why cats purr, here.

Body language

Mum cats also communicate with their kittens through cat body language. A mother cat may lick them, nuzzle them, and even carry them in her mouth. This is a way of showing her kittens that she loves and cares for them.

Scent sense

Mother cats also communicate with their kittens through scent. Cats have a much better sense of smell than humans, and mother cats use this to their advantage when communicating with their kittens. When a mother cat rubs her face against her kittens, she is leaving her scent on them. This serves as a way to bond with and protect her kittens.

Cat language like meowing and yowling are all vocalisations that this mother cat uses to communicate.


In addition, mother cats use vocalisations to communicate with their kittens. Cat language like meowing, yowling, chirping, and trilling are all vocalisations that mother cats use to communicate. They may also use these vocalisations to call their kittens to them and communicate their location. Isn’t that claw-some?

Eye contact

Finally, mother cats communicate with their kittens through their eyes. Eye contact is one of the most powerful forms of communication for cats. A mother cat will often make eye contact with her kittens to show them she’s watching over them and that they are safe.

See how this cat mum interacts with her adorable kittens in this heartwarming ❤️ video:

Can cats talk English?

This is an intriguing question that’s been raised many times, and with the help of scientific research, we can now answer this question with more certainty. No, cats can’t vocalise words in English. or French. or Swahili. You get the gist.

It turns out that even though cats can purr, they lack the ability to produce the sounds necessary for speaking English. They can, however, communicate with humans in other ways (cat language). Cats can meow in different tones and pitches to express themselves. They also communicates through body language, such as rubbing against you, purring, and twitching their tails.

More importantly, although they can’t say human words, they can still learn to understand them…

Can cats learn to understand English if theyre trained?

It’s possible. Cats have been shown understand certain words and phrases associated with specific outcomes. For example, if you consistently say “dinner” when you’re about to feed your cat, they may start associating the word with food and will come running when they hear it.

(Just don’t talk about your dinner plans around them when it’s not dinner time for them or you’ll be sending mixed messages).😉

All that said, cats can’t learn complex human languages as easily as some other animals. Not only do they lack the vocal anatomy to articulate the sounds and words but they also don’t have the level of intelligence needed. Then again, some cats are certain they’re of a higher intelligence than most humans. 😸

So, while cats can sometimes understand certain words and phrases their human parents use, they can’t speak the language. That’s not to say they don’t have the gift of the gab but it’s up to us to speak cat, and not the other way around! Ready to interpret that cat purr then why not learn how to speak cat?

If you ever find yourself wishing your cat could talk to you, don’t worry – they’re still expressing their feelings and thoughts in their own way. Check out this hiss-terical video of ‘talking cats’:

4 tips to teach your cat human words

If you’ve ever wanted to teach your li’l meowster how to understand human words, then we’ve some fun tips for you. Cats are intelligent animals and are capable of learning how to understand the words their fur parents use.

Teach your cat purr-fect cues

  1. Start by teaching your cat simple words like their name, sit, and come. Start by saying the word in a calm voice and then give your cat a treat when they respond correctly. Over time, you can add more words and see if your cat responds appropriately.
  2. Make sure to use consistent cues when teaching your cat words. This means using the same intonation and body language when speaking the words. This helps your cat recognise the sounds they’re hearing and understand their specific meanings.
  3. Use positive reinforcement when teaching your cat words. Give your cat a treat or some other positive reinforcement every time they respond correctly. This will help them learn faster and will create a positive association with the words you are teaching.
  4. Be patient when teaching your cat human words. It may take some time for your cat to respond to the words but it’s also a chance to bond so don’t give up.

With these tips, you can teach your kitty cat to respond to human words. Felines are incredible and can learn to understand specific words their fur parents use. All it takes is patience and consistency – just like it does with learning to interpret your cat’s purr. Good luck!

With your cat doing so much of ‘talking’, check out our PD Insurance Deluxe plan that covers a range of dental treatments for your pet (capped at an annual limit). Read this ‘Pet Dental Insurance: What’s Covered?‘ article for more info.

These cute kittens speak fluent cat language.

More info to help you understand cats

We’d like to en-claw-rage you to read this mix of cat-loving articles:

  1. Do You Know About These Scents Cats Like?
  2. Arthritis in Cats: What Do Vets Recommend?
  3. Why Do Cats Lick You? Here’s the Top 4 Reasons
  4. Pet Doesn’t Like Your Partner? Here’s What To Do
  5. What Makes a Crazy Cat Lady (and Am I One)?

Does your purring feline have pet insurance?

Are you looking for affordable cat insurance in NZ that will properly protect your cat and elicit that purr? How about one that also won Canstar’s 2022 Most Satisfied Customers – Pet Insurance Award? It’s time to let PD Insurance take your stress away as you give your cat a soft landing.

Make sure your purring prince or princess is covered for any accidents or illnesses. Our cat insurance plans help protect your finances after accidents and when other injuries and illnesses strike. You can go to whichever qualified vet you want, wherever you are in NZ.

This means you can make care-based decisions over financial ones with the added benefit of a fast claims turnaround. Just one more reason to elicit that marvellous cat purr.

Click below to get a pet insurance quote and discover how we can help you be an even more responsible cat parent.

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