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Why Do Cats Knead and Purr? Know Her Better- Zippy Pet

Amir Ali
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Written by Amir Ali| February 13, 2022

Why do Cats knead and Purr? Let me tell you, kneading (more technically Smurgling) and purring are the two behaviours of cats that every cat parent had noticed at some point in time. If you have become a cat daddy or cat mom for the first time, you probably have questions about why your cats knead blankets, soft objects and even your tummy. Similarly, you also wonder about the strange ‘purring’ sound that she starts making at any time. 

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In this blog post, I’ll try to break down these two strange cat behaviours. But if you are in a super urgency here’s an infographic to summarise the entire blog post for you.

An infographic showing why do cats knead and purr
An Infographic Showing Why Do Cats Knead and Purr?

What is Kneading?

Kneading is a rhythmic motion that cats do by pushing their paws (often with their full claws) against soft surfaces such as a blanket, your chest, tummy, or against the tummies of companion pets. Kneading is also known as making biscuits or cookies. This behaviour is more common in kittens and young cats yet many cats continue to do this throughout their lives.

Why Do Cats Knead? 

The exact reasons behind kneading are yet to be discovered. But according to experts, there are multiple theories behind kneading such as it is a leftover behaviour that keeps cats in the post kitten stage. Cats knead when they are happy and feel content. Cats knead when they are about to sleep. Sometimes they knead to mark the objects or to stretch their muscles.

1. Cats Knead Their Owners to Express Trust

Kneading the bellies of mother cats is an instinctual behaviour of kittens. Experts say that kittens knead the area around the nipples of the mother cat to stimulate the glands to secrete milk. Kneading their mothers’ bellies gives them a sense of security and satisfaction. 

Cats Knead Their Owners Because They See Them as Their Guardian and Want to Express Their Trust

This behaviour remains stuck to cats even when they grow up. Kneading the tummy, chest or other body parts of their owners gives them the same kind of emotional satisfaction and security that they felt when they were around their mother. So, they knead their owners’ body parts to express their contentment.

2. Cat Knead Other Pets to Show Affection  

Cat kneads to show their love and affection. Since, when they were kittens; they were very happy being around their mother and they used to express or communicate these feelings by kneading her. Similarly, when they are around other pets and to say that “Dude, I like you too”. They knead them. What could be a better way than this? 

3. Cats Knead Blankets to Get Ready to Sleep

The next question is why do cats knead blankets or other soft surfaces?  Kneading blankets and other soft surfaces like a couch, condos, bed and similar objects is also very common in cats. 

Cats knead blankets usually when they are about to sleep. The theory behind this is, they do this to make the surface comfortable and to signal their body system that it’s the time to enjoy a sound sleep. 

4. Cat Knead to Mark the Objects

Cats knead objects to mark them. This is their way of giving the other cats a message that it’s their property or territory. 

Cats have tiny glands present on their skins from which they secrete a typical chemical called ‘pheromones’. By rubbing their head, back, paws against the object they transfer their scented pheromones. This way they give other cats a signal that this object or territory belongs to them. 

Similarly, some cats knead instead of rubbing to transfer their scent to the kneaded object.

5. Cats Knead to Stretch Their Muscles

Lastly, some people have a view that cats frequently stretch out their bodies after resting. But this stretching is not restricted only to limbs and back, they stretch the muscles of their paws also by kneading their paws against soft surfaces. 

Related: Catify Your Home

What to Do If a Cat Kneads You? 

Okay, let’s take a hypothetical situation. You are sitting on a couch, reading a book, suddenly your cat comes, she climbed on your leg and started kneading you. Now, what to do? 

Well, she’s giving you love so the best thing is to love her back. You can do this by petting her gently over her head and back but remember don’t touch her tail and tummy. These are sensitive areas of cats and they don’t like to be touched on those areas. Just a nice gentle massage on the head and back will do the work. 



What is the Purr? 

An image showing a ginger cat closing her eyes

All domestic cats purr. Interestingly, purring is not restricted only to domestic cats many wild cats such as puma, ocelots, and even cheetahs purr.

But all cats don’t purr. Big cats (think of a lion or tiger) don’t purr. Why? Because they roar and that’s why they are also known as ‘roaring cats’. 

Anyway, let’s stay on the topic. Domestic cats purr because of various reasons such as when they are happy, sad, stressed, ill, wounded, need food, and even at the time of death. 

Another astounding fact about purring is unlike other vocalisations like ‘meow’, purring continue to the entire respiratory cycle(inhalation and exhalation).  This means that your miraculous kitty doesn’t need to hold her breath to purr. 

How Do Cats Purr?

How cats purr is still not 100% clear. However, the most common opinion is cats purr with the help of the larynx(voice box) and vocal cords.

When the cats breathe they expand and constrict the glottis(the area around the vocal cords)  rapidly in rhythm. While the air passage is closed the air starts vibrating over the laryngeal muscles that give out a rustling sound, that we call the purr.

People also ask about whether purring is intentional or it is an instinctual behaviour that just happens without the intent of cats. 

Well, scientists are divided on this question as well.  As we are unable to find clear evidence and there is a huge scope of research with this respect

A group of scientists believe that purring is intentional and cats do this of their will. As they usually do everything only when they want. Beg her to do high five and she’ll never do it to show your friends. LOL 

While there is another group that says that it’s something that just happens in cats involuntarily whenever they find themselves in joyful or stressful situations or when they are sick.

Related: How to Stop a Cat Fight?

Why Do Cats Purr? 

To be a purrr-fect cat parent you must know why your cats purr in different situations to provide her with the right love and care and when to keep a safe distance from her. In my opinion, purring is even more common in cats than kneading. And, there are many interesting reasons why cats do that. 

Cats purr when they are happy. Cats on the other hand, also purr when they are unhappy or in anger. Sometimes they purr in a combination of cry or meowing sounds to solicit food from us. While the most interesting reason is purring gives them a secret power to heal their wounds quickly.  Simply Incredible!

Now let’s just stretch each of these reasons. 

1. Cats Purr to Be Friendly and When They Are Happy

An image showig human fingers tikcling a calico cat

One of the most common experienced instances is cats purr when they are happy, content and want to be friendly with you. You are doing a great job by petting and tickling me and it’s my style to give thanks to you. 

Haven’t experienced it yet? Don’t be disheartened. Wait for the moment when she sits in your lap, pet her gently, most probably she’ll start giving out low rustling sounds and gentle vibrations. That’s the purr.

2. Cats Purr When They Are Sad, Unhappy or Stressed

The purr is not only for good reasons. Cats also purr when they find themselves in awkward situations like in the presence of strangers, other pets whom they are not familiar with and also when they are angry or nervous.

Let’s have a look at Gary Weitzman, a veterinarian and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society in an interview with BBC.

“While the purr does generally represent contentment for cats, it can also express nervousness, fear and stress.” 

Gary Weitzman CEO San Diego Humane Society 

You see, it’s clear from Gary’s comment that happiness is not the only emotional state when cats purr, sometimes the situation could be completely opposite. Beware! 

3. Cats Purr to Heal Wounds

Believe it or not, the purr has the power to heal, helps cats to recover from illness as well as repair broken bones. This is insane!  

I know you may not believe it if you are reading this for the first time. I am not saying this, but according to a study, a low-frequency purr(25 Hz to 150 Hz) is a natural healing process. 

Another research claims that the purr helps cats to promote bone strength, stimulate healing of fractures, provide pain relief, and help heal tendons and muscles.

4. Cats Purr to Solicit the Food From Humans

An image showing a Grey and blak American shorthair cat eating her food from a Grey Bowl

I was perplexed when I read this research, I mean what the hell! Cats fool us by taking advantage of the emotional sensory bias that humans have to provide care. So, your innocent kitty manipulates your emotions and uses them to get food from you. To do this, cats embed purr with high-pitched cry(like an infant) to ask for soliciting food from humans. “Sneaky cats!”

5. Cats Purr Before Sleep 

The possible reason or the situation when you may find your baby purring is when she’s all set to bed. In my opinion, since the purr gives cats a soothing experience therefore some cats purr before sleeping to prepare their body and mind to sleep. 

Why Do Cats Knead and Purr at the Same Time?

I congratulate you if you have experienced this. Since both kneading and purring are signs of affection and show that cats actually love their owners(not in a way we love other humans). But it shows some kind of their attachment to us. So if a cat is kneading you and giving out a purring sound then it’s a clear sign that she admires the love and care you are providing her. Maybe she wants to say “I admire whatever you are doing for me, I feel attached to you and enjoys your company.”

Conclusion

Alright, we have come to the section I hate most. Believe me, I’m saying the truth. I don’t like to end our conversation but I have to go to fetch some other useful information for you. 

Today, I have tried to answer as many questions as possible and clarify why cats do cats knead and purr? If you still have doubts and questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’ll try to answer it personally as soon as possible or include that in the post when I update it the next time. If you liked the post then let me know in the comment section and please share it in your social groups. 

‘Thanks for Reading’

References:

1.  https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/item/why-and-how-do-cats-purr/

2. https://pets.webmd.com/cats/why-do-cats-purr

3. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180724-the-complicated-truth-about-a-cats-purr

4. https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/item/why-and-how-do-cats-purr/

5. https://asa.scitation.org/doi/10.1121/1.4777098

6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982209011683