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When Will My Kitten Start to Purr? The Origin Story

Written by: Elizabeth Gray

Last Updated on June 17, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

grey scottish fold kitten

When Will My Kitten Start to Purr? The Origin Story

The sound of a cat purring is one of the most relaxing and soothing noises you’ll ever hear. If you’re about to bring a new kitten home, you might wonder when they will start to purr so you can enjoy this most adorable of sounds. The good news is that kittens usually begin to purr when they’re only a few days old, so their little motors should be nice and warm by the time they join your family.

In this article, we’ll discuss how and why kittens start to purr so early. We’ll also cover reasons why adult cats continue to purr and what it means if your kitten or cat doesn’t purr at all.

3 cat dividerA Kitten’s Purr: The Origin Story

Some might call a cat’s purr their superpower, and what’s one of those without a good origin story? How do our kittens start purring, and for what purpose?

Scientists believe that purring begins with a signal from the kitten’s brain called a neural oscillator. This directs the muscles in the kitten’s larynx (voice box) to open and close the vocal cords. Air fluttering over the space between the vocal cords produces a purring sound. Unlike meowing and other vocalizations, kittens purr throughout the entire breathing cycle, expiration, and inspiration.

Kittens begin purring at only a few days old as part of the bonding process with their mother. Mama cat purrs to soothe her babies and help the blind and deaf kittens know where she is when it’s dinnertime. Kittens purr to signal to mom that they’re okay and help her know where they are.

woman owner holding her ragdoll kitten
Image Credit: Tatyana Vyc, Shutterstock

Why Adult Cats Purr

Like kittens, adult cats generally use purring as a means of communication, although they may not always be saying what you think.

Most people assume cats purr when they are relaxed, content, or happy, which is a common occurrence. However, cats may also purr because they need something, such as food. Hungry purrs generally sound different than happy purrs, with a bit of a yowl or mew mixed in.

Cats also purr if they are in pain or stressed. Purring likely acts as a self-soothing mechanism, much as the mother cat’s purr used to lull her kittens to sleep. Another intriguing theory is that the vibration frequency of the purrs aids in healing. A study found that cats purr most strongly at two frequencies that promote bone growth and healing.

white cat purring
Image By: AleksDaria, Shutterstock

What if My Kitten Doesn’t Purr?

While kittens can start purring as young as a few days old, what does it mean if they don’t? It may take the kitten a little longer to develop the behavior. The kitten may also purr very quietly or prefer other communication methods.

However, because purring involves both laryngeal muscles and breathing, it’s also possible that the kitten has a medical problem with one of these areas. Adult cats may lose their purr (and meow) if their laryngeal muscles become paralyzed due to an infection or tumor. Kittens could have a birth defect or respiratory issue that interferes with their ability to purr.

If your kitten doesn’t purr, it’s worth talking to your vet about the situation. This is especially true if you notice other symptoms like trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, or coughing.

3 cat dividerConclusion

Unless you are a cat breeder, any kitten you bring home will likely already be purring before you meet them. Every cat is different, and some purr more loudly and readily than others. Purring is relaxing not only to the kitten but to humans as well. Just remember that purring is not always a sign of happiness but can indicate something is wrong too. If your kitten is behaving abnormally, such as acting more tired than usual, don’t dismiss the symptom just because they are still purring.


Featured Image Credit: Natakay, Pixabay

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