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Do Feral Cats Know How to Purr? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

Written by: Melissa Gunter

Last Updated on June 5, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

feral cat with right ear tip clipped

Do Feral Cats Know How to Purr? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ


Dr. Luqman Javed Photo


Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Hearing your cat purr is usually a sign you’re doing something right. Whether they have a full belly and are thanking you, or they are simply enjoying the affection you’re providing, their contentment is heartwarming. But have you ever wondered about feral cats? Do they purr? Do they even know how to purr?

If you’re curious about the community cats in your area, the answer is yes, feral cats know how to purr. Let’s take a deeper look at purring and why cats do it.

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What Is a Purr?

In the simplest terms, a purr is the sound we hear when our cat’s vocal cords vibrate and air passes over them as the cat breathes. This system is controlled subconsciously by your cat’s brain. The muscles around their vocal cords make the vibrations, not the cords themselves. That is why cats can purr as they inhale and exhale, and they can meow and purr at the same time.

On the other hand, meows are vocalizations cats use, usually to communicate with humans. Unlike a purr, they are conscious sounds your cat makes using their vocal cords. Cats normally purr when they are content, nursing kittens, trying to relax, and sometimes when in pain. The frequency of a cat’s purr is unique to the cat and doesn’t change throughout their life.

feral calico cat
Image Credit: Twinschoice, Shutterstock

Do Feral Cats Know How to Purr?

Feral cats are not the same as stray cats. They have never had human contact, were born in the wild, and in most cases, aren’t tamable. Considering how the cats hide away from humans, it only makes sense that people would be curious whether they purr like other cats.

Unfortunately, we aren’t well-equipped to observe feral cats’ purring in most instances, in part because of their tendency to avoid humans. However, it is safe to assume that they know how to purr. Although born wild, feral mothers still bond with their kittens. They nurse them, show them love, and teach them about the world they live in.

A feral kitten’s world is very different compared to a tame cat since there are several predators and dangers around them. Nonetheless, they still purr; the behavior is instinctive and not unique to pet cats.

There are instances when feral cats may purr. If you see feral cats in your community, you’ve most likely noticed they live in colonies. This group of feral cats is often part of the same family. While feral cats face many dangers, there are instances where they are happy and content around their families. However, it’s hard to determine how often they purr to show happiness.

vocal semi-feral cat
Image Credit: museumsmaus, Pixabay

Why Do Domesticated Cats Purr?

As cat parents, we instantly think our cats purr to show they are happy. However, there’s much more to the vocalization than meets the eye. Let’s take a deeper look at why cats purr to help you understand the importance of this sound.

It’s Time to Eat

We all know how motivated cats are by food. When your cat knows it is mealtime, they may purr instead of meow. This is especially true if they see you are preparing their meal. It’s your cat’s way of showing they are happy and appreciative of the meal you’re giving them.


Most cats purr when they are content. It’s their way of showing you that they feel safe, happy, and relaxed with you.

Motherly Bond

After having kittens, a mother cat purrs, which helps establish a bond with her young. Instinctively, the kittens return the gesture. This beautiful display is how they bond and communicate as the kittens grow.


Purrs aren’t only soothing to humans but also to cats themselves. When your cat is sick or hurt, they will purr in hopes of healing themselves quicker. This also happens when your cat is feeling stressed or anxious. The frequency of a cat’s purr has been experimentally noted to promote recovery rates and expedite bone healing.

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Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, the lives of feral cats aren’t easy. More often than not, they have lived their entire lives without human contact and are doing all they can to stay fed and safe. However, it is safe to assume that feral cats know how to purr. The reasons they purr are fundamentally similar to the reasons that a domestic house cat purrs.

Featured Image Credit: Krishna777, Shutterstock

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