Why do cats purr? 12 questions about your pet, answered

Why do cats purr? 12 questions about your pet, answered
Why do cats purr? 12 questions about your pet, answered
Here’s all you need to know about your feline friends (Picture: Getty)

Those people who claim that dogs are a man’s best friend have obviously never had the privilege of owning a cat.

These furry feline friends with their floofy tails and squishy toe beans make for the purr-fect pet.

That being said, cats can be very strange creatures, with weird quirks and unpredictable temperaments.

So, with the help of some cat experts, Metro.co.uk has answered the most-asked questions about cats – from why they purr, to why they insist on bringing home dead animals.

Why do cats purr?

The short answer? It depends on the cat.

Cat expert Celia Haddon, author of A Cat’s Guide to Humans, explained to Metro.co.uk that how and when one purrs differs from cat to cat.

She said: ‘Cats are very individual in how and when they purr. They are also individual in how loud the purr is.

smiling cat pet by his owner
A cat’s purr does not always mean that it’s happy (Picture: Getty)

‘Some cats do silent purring, which you can only detect by putting your ear close to their body.’

No one knows for sure why a domestic cat purrs, but many people interpret the sound as one of contentment.

However, Haddon says that although that is mostly true, it isn’t always the case.

She explained: ‘You may hear your cat purring when he is actually being examined by a vet and in that case is very unlikely to be relaxed or happy.

‘So now we think that purring is for some cats sometimes a way of saying “care for me” or “I need your care.” Is there a difference in purr quality between “I am relaxed and happy” and “I need you to care for me?”  If there is, we humans have not yet discovered it.’

Why does my cat bring home dead birds?

Are cats just vicious killers? Are they passive-aggressively letting you know that their kitty kibble is not up to scratch?

The real that reason cats bring home dead mice and birds is actually rather sweet.

cat with a dead mouse in its mouth
The real that reason cats bring home dead mice and birds is actually rather sweet (Picture: Getty)

Cats are often raised by their mother who teaches them how to survive on their own – this includes catching prey.

The mother will often begin teaching them by bringing back dead prey for the kittens to eat. Then, she will bring back a live animal to teach her offspring how to kill for themselves.

Once the kittens are old enough, they will go outside with their mother to learn how to hunt on their own.

Cats see humans as inexperienced hunters. This is why they are bringing back their dead animals to us. They are trying to teach us how to hunt like they do.

Sometimes, they may also be bringing you a gift so you are able to eat the good raw meat like they do.

Next time your cat brings you a dead animal, try to remember that they think they are doing something nice for you – no matter how disgusting it may be.

Why do cats lick themselves?

Cats groom themselves for several reasons. In addition to detangling their fur, it removes harmful parasites and their eggs.

Cat cleaning itself
Cats like to keep clean (Picture: Getty)

It also redistributes oils produced by the cat’s skin that provide the fur with some waterproofing.

Anita Kelsey, cat behaviourist and author of Let’s Talk About Cats, added that cats also lick themselves ‘as a self-soothing action, placing their scent over their bodies to feel safe and secure.’

Why do cats rub against you?

Picture this: You’re carrying something incredibly fragile… when you trip over your cat.

This scenario is all-too familiar with cat owners.

But why do the furry fiends insist on weaving between your legs – is it a conspiracy by the ceramic industry to trip you over so you buy more expensive plates? Or are they incredibly desperate for your attention?

According to our cat experts, the answer is probably not what you expect.

Cat rubbing against a leg
Why do they always do this? (Picture: Getty)

Clinical animal behaviourist Trudi Atkinson explained to Metro.co.uk, ‘Cats have a highly sensitive sense of smell and one way that they communicate is by scent.

‘Cats that belong to the same social group will exchange scents by rubbing against each other (a behaviour known as allo-rubbing), which produces a group scent that helps them to recognise each other.’

‘Pet cats perform the same behaviour with their owners.’

You will not be able to smell your cat’s purr-fume, but other cats will be able to.

Why do cats sit on your lap?

There is no better feeling than being the chosen one – having the family cat choose your lap out of all the other available laps in the room.

The reason they like resting there? It’s simple – you’re warm and comfortable.

Anita Kelsey explained: ‘Cats like to sit on us to get warmth and to get attention and strokes. It is an affectionate action and a bonding action.’

kitten sitting on a lap
Cats will sit on your lap because you’re warm (Picture: Getty)

However, she stressed that just because your cat doesn’t sit on your lap, it does not mean they don’t like you.

Anita said: ‘Many long-haired breed of cats are not lap cats as they overheat from our body heat but they will sit beside us to have the same fuss and attention.

‘Some cats like to sit on our laps but don’t necessarily want to be stroked. They just choose to be close with us on their own terms.’

Why do cats bite, scratch, and hiss?

Anita Kelsey told Metro.co.uk that cats hiss, scratch, and bite as a ‘warning’.

She said: ‘Cats hiss as a warning to back off. If a cat is feeling threatened/ cornered or their warning hiss has been ignored, they will most likely resort to biting and scratching.

These actions are usually defensive actions but they can also be offensive actions such as when a neighbourhood bully cat picks a fight with another cat over territory. Cats main weapons of defense are their teeth and claws.

‘Cats also hiss to tell us they dislike something.’

However, there may be other instances when cats display this kind of behaviour.

cat biting a man
Cats sometimes bite because they are playing (Picture: Getty)

Trudi Atkinson explained: ‘Biting and scratching can occur during misguided predatory type play (which is why cats or kittens should always be encourage to play with toys and never be encouraged to play with human hands or feet).’

Are cats intelligent?

Both of our cat experts were quick to emphasise that yes, cats are indeed very intelligent creatures.

Trudi said that although cats do not have anywhere near the same level of cognitive or reasoning powers as humans, they ‘have the intelligence, skills and learning ability necessary to survive as a small wild or feral predator or as a household pet.’

Why do cats knead with their paws?

If you’re ever around newborn kittens, you will see them kneading pretty quickly after birth.

A kitten kneads on his mother’s abdomen as a way of telling her he is hungry and ready for her milk.

cat paws
Look at those soft paws… (Picture: Getty)

However, many cats continue to knead into adulthood.

Kneading seems to be more common in some cats than others.

If your cat doesn’t knead, it could mean they are a little stressed — or it could just be that your cat doesn’t display relaxation or affection in that manner.

It’s pretty safe to assume a cat who is kneading is feeling calm, content, and ready to nap.

Why do cats like catnip?

Nothing gets cats going like some fresh catnip.

Catnip is a plant from the mint family that contains oils (nepetalactone) that give it its distinct smell. When a cat smells or eats catnip, nepetalactone enters its nose and activates sensory nerves.

The result is a kind of chemical reaction that gives the cat a sense of euphoria or overwhelming happiness.

cat with catnip
Cats go crazy for catnip (Picture: Getty)

When cats smell catnip, they will often paw at it, rub it, roll over it, lick it and even chew it.

After a few minutes, though, the effect of the catnip wears off, and cats will ignore it. After about two hours, cats may encounter catnip again and have the same reaction.

Big cats, such as lions and tigers, react similarly to house cats when exposed to catnip.

Why do cats have whiskers?

Whiskers are more than just a fashion statement.

They are specifically tuned sensory equipment that guide a cat through daily life.

Tabby cat
They’re more than just a stylish accessory (Picture: Getty)

Whiskers have many functions:

  • Measuring tape – Whiskers are placed around the width of your cat’s body, which means they are excellent at helping your cat gauge how tight a space is
  • Vibration sensors – They can detect changes in air currents, enabling them to sense approaching dangers or prey
  • Night vision – Air currents in a room are different depending on where furniture is placed. Whiskers pick up on this and tells their brain where things are, even in the dark
  • Expressing emotions – Like human eyebrows, whiskers can also be used to express emotions. If their whiskers are rigid and pulled around their face it means they may feel threatened, whereas, if their whiskers are relaxed, it indicates that your cat may be feeling happy and content. Additionally, if you notice that your cat’s whiskers are pushed forward it may mean that they’re interested or curious

It is incredibly important to note that you should never cut a cat’s whiskers.

If you snip them off then your cat can get very disorientated and scared as they’ll be unable to gauge or sense their environment.

Meet the cat who goes for walks in backpack and demands weekly baths

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Does my cat like me?

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and difficult to read, especially compared to dogs.

smiling cat
Cats have more subtle ways of showing you they like you compared to dogs (Picture: Getty)

However, there are many small signs that your cat trusts you to look out for, including the following:

  • Head butting – cats tend to only rub their scent on to people they like
  • Tummy exposure – getting to see your furry friend’s fluffy belly is a sign they trust you
  • Love bites – some cats will gently nibble on you to show fondness
  • Kneading – if your cat kneads you like some bread dough, it’s a sign they are calm around you

What are the signs that your cat doesn’t like you?

As much as you might love your cat, sometimes they might not reciprocate this.

Don’t take it personally – your cat may not like you for a number of reasons out of your control, including not enjoying your smell.

Additionally, you may have accidentally stood on it’s tail, or fed it kibble it doesn’t like.

grump cat
I wouldn’t want to be on his bad side… (Picture: Getty)

If you’re worried that your feline friend has not taken a fancy to you, then there are some signs to look out for:

  • A horizontal tail – this means the cat is in a state of fear, retreat or an aggressive, hostile mood.
  • Hiding – sometimes a cat will hide if they are unfamiliar with a space or new to your family. But if the hiding continues, then it may be a sign of an underlying issue.
  • They bite you – not in a soft, loving way.
  • Physical distance – does your cat walk away from you?
  • They hiss at you – another sure sign that you aren’t their favourite person.
  • They’re friendly to everyone else except you – your cat may naturally be a bit grumpy. However, if they are nice to everyone except you, then maybe it’s personal.

If you feel like your cat doesn’t like you then don’t despair – there are some steps you can take to try and earn their love.

Giving them fancy cat treats, being gentle with them, not being too loud or sudden in movements, and sitting next to them rather than towering over them are common ways to win them over.

If you feel like you have tried everything and your cat doesn’t like you, then consider taking them to an animal behaviourist or a vet to find out if there is a deeper underlying issue.


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Author: Evelyn Richards