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Cats have some interesting vocalizations when communicating, and purring is one of the cutest and most endearing noises that a cat can make. Typically associated with happiness and contentment, a cat’s purr often reassures owners that their feline friend is loving its life.
As such, one of the times you may notice your cat purring the most is when you pet them. Usually, this is their way of saying they love your cuddles and feel super happy and calm around you. However, noticing your cat purring while sleeping is another common sight. But this leaves owners with one question: Why do cats purr when they sleep?
Most of the time, a cat purring while sleeping is another sign of pure relaxation, contentment, and happiness. When dozing on the couch or sleeping on your lap, your cat feels at ease and is communicating this through its purr. However, purring while sleeping can also be a sign that they are dreaming, self-healing, or bonding with other cats.
In this article, I’ll discuss all the different reasons why cats purr while they sleep and other times you might notice your cat letting out this adorable rumbling noise. But first, I will start by discussing how a cat purrs in the first place so you can comprehensively understand what’s going on and why.
How Does a Cat Physically Purr?
Before I get into the reason why cats purr when they sleep, I want to answer the following questions: How do cats purr? What is the mechanism behind this adorable noise? And do cats have control over when they purr?
The typical purring sound is the result of vibrations in your cat’s larynx, otherwise known as their voice box. This organ is located in your feline’s neck and is surrounded by laryngeal muscles. When purring, these muscles quickly relax and contract at a rate of 25 to 150 times per minute.
As the laryngeal muscles constrict and dilate, this causes the vocal cords to separate. At the same time, the diaphragm moves up and down simultaneously with the movement of the laryngeal muscles and creates the purring sound we know and love! The number of vibrations per minute determines the sound level and tone of the purr, which is why some cat’s purrs can sound different from one another.
Interestingly, cats cannot control when they purr. The movement of the laryngeal muscles is all due to an automatic neural circuit that initiates in your cat’s brain. The brain sends signals directly to the larynx which causes the muscles to start vibrating as an automatic reflex to certain situations.
Most of the time, the situation or feeling that triggered the start of this neural circuit is contentment. This explains why humans have long associated purring with happiness. However, feeling scared or threatened can also trigger purring, making this sound more complex to understand than people initially believed!
Top 4 Reasons Cats Purr When They Sleep
Now we know how cats purr, we can look at why cats purr when they sleep. When sleeping, it is unlikely that your cat is purring as they are scared or feeling threatened. If that was the case, they wouldn’t be asleep – they’d be awake and alert instead.
As such, the main reason for cats purring while sleeping is as they feel relaxed and content. They could also be dreaming, bonding with other cats, or healing their bodies. Here’s a closer look at these top four reasons in a bit more detail.
1. They’re Happy & Content
Although there are no major threats for domestic cats, the behavior of wild cats persists. One such behavior is when cats sleep. In the wild, cats will typically sleep more in “safe” areas, free from predators and other threats.
Why? Well, when asleep, a cat is in one of its most vulnerable states. If anything was to come and startle your cat while they are in dreamland, they will face a bigger threat than if they were awake, alert, and ready to either pounce or run away. Although our domestic felines don’t face any real threats, your cat is still more likely to fall asleep if they feel relaxed and safe within your home.
Additionally, if your cat is napping, it is unlikely that they are stressed on in pain. Again, this stems from wild behavior that has been passed on down through generations and is similar to human behavior. Do you struggle to sleep when stressed? Does a painful stomach, headache, or cough keep you up at night? The same is true for cats.
Considering these two facts, the main reason cats purr when sleeping is that they’re happy and content. To sleep they likely feel comfortable and free from stress and pain. Combined with the fact that they’re purring, this can give you even more reassurance your kitty is simply having a lovely and relaxing night’s sleep.
It is important to note that sick and unhappy cats do, of course, still sleep. However, this will usually never be combined with purring. Additionally, learning cat sleeping positions when sick will help you notice if your little furry friend is indeed struggling.
Sick cats also usually show other signs of illness. These will vary hugely depending on the condition that they are suffering from. Common symptoms of include loss of appetite, weight gain or weight loss, increased thirst, and more. Is your cat sleeping more than usual? This can also indicate something is wrong.
If in doubt, a trip to the vet can help diagnose the condition and have your cat feeling like its old self again in no time.
2. They’re Dreaming
Did you know that cats dream? That’s right, dreaming is not only a human trait! Cats can also dream while they are deep in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the deepest level of sleep there is. This is the same stage of sleep that humans enter into when we dream.
You can usually tell when your cat is dreaming by watching closely for signs. You might notice their paws and legs moving or their mouths twitching. Additionally, cats often release small noises when they dream, which can be anything from a purr-like vibration to little yelps or sighs.
If a cat is purring while sleeping, this could indicate that they are having an enjoyable and happy dream. Perhaps they are being fed an endless bowl of treats or are chasing a little bird around your garden! However, as purring is also linked to feelings of anxiety and threats, it could be that your cat is having a nightmare. Maybe they are being chased by a predator after all! Unfortunately, we will never be able to know exactly what your kitty is dreaming about, we can only speculate.
In either case – sweet dream or nightmare – you should pat yourself on the back if you notice any of these signs of dreaming. As dreaming predominantly only occurs during the deepest level of sleep, it means your cat feels super safe and secure in your home. So, enjoy listening to those little purrs and watching their paws twitch knowing you’ve done a great job as an owner.
3. They’re Bonding With Each Other
If you have more than one cat in your, you may notice that they purr together while they sleep. Aside from being undeniably adorable, your cats could be purring as a way of bonding with each other.
This all relates to when kittens first purr when they are only a few weeks old. At this age, their purring signals to the mother cat where its kittens are and to let them know they are okay. The mother will purr back in a lullaby-like way, letting the kitten know they are there for them and caring. By doing so, the mother-child bond starts to become strong.
If you have a cat that has had a litter of kittens, you will probably notice this bonding behavior. However, even older cats can still use purring as a way of communicating and forming close friendships. If your cats are all sleeping and purring at once, they’re just becoming best buddies!
4. They’re Self-Healing & Growing
Many people think cats purring is simply a cute noise they make when they’re happy. However, purring actually holds a much more magical power – it can help with healing and growing! How? Well, this is all down to the vibrations.
Remember I said that purring is a result of the laryngeal muscles vibrating quickly? The precise vibration frequency of a purr sits at roughly 26 Hertz, the same frequency used in vibrational therapy to promote tissue regeneration. When exposed to these vibrations, the muscles and bones become stronger and start to heal.
This self-healing and recovery go hand-in-hand with sleep. The reason that our cats need sleep is for their bodies to recharge and recover. When they wake up, they will feel fresh and alert and ready to tackle the day ahead. If your cat is purring while asleep, this means they’ll have an extra dose of self-healing and recharging during their slumber.
Interestingly, cats can also be passing these healing powers onto you as well if you’re nearby. Often, my cat sleeps on my chest and purrs, sending these healing vibrations through my body as well as its own. This explains why many cat owners claim to recover from illness and stress all thanks to their purring feline.
Is My Cat Purring or Is It Actually Snoring?
Above are all the reasons why cats purr when they sleep; however, often owners mistake a snoring cat for a purring cat. Snoring and purring are two subtly different sounds that have unique meanings. A cat purring while asleep is usually due to contentment, dreaming, bonding, or self-healing. On the other hand, when a cat is snoring this is usually just a sign your cat is in a very deep sleep. However, it can also be a sign of allergies, respiratory illness, and other health issues.
As such, it is important to be able to distinguish between these two noises, and listening closely should make it easy to tell these two sounds apart. You can also figure out which noise your cat is making by watching its movements and assessing the overall situation.
For example, purring is more common if your cat is nearby to you while they sleep. Cats purr when you pet them, and if they are close to you their purring is likely to continue as they drift off into their peaceful slumber. They’re also more likely to be purring if they are with other cats or if you notice they are in a dream state of REM sleep.
On the other hand, snoring is more likely if your cat has a flat face or is overweight. If your cat is snoring due to illness, you can also look for other signs and symptoms of a medical condition. This could be coughing or sneezing, difficulty breathing, or discharge from their eyes and nose.
Should I Be Worried That My Cat Is Snoring?
As snoring can be an indicator that something is wrong, many owners panic if they think their cat is snoring. However, the majority of the time – especially if your kitty has snored its entire life – snoring is completely normal and nothing to worry about.
For a better understanding of how to differentiate normal and healthy snoring from snoring due to an illness, here is an overview of the top reasons why your cat is snoring:
- Face Shape: If you have a flat-faced cat, such as a Persian or a Burmese cat, their squashed nose shape can mean their nasal cavity is a little constricted. Because of this, snoring is much more common.
- Obesity or Overweight: Cats that carry excess weight have additional pressure pressing down on their respiratory passages. As such, snoring is more likely. You can help your cat get down to a healthy weight and the snoring may subside.
- Sleeping Position: Some sleeping positions make snoring more likely, such as when cats cover their faces when they sleep or when they sleep on their back. In these positions, it is more difficult for air to flow easily, leading to snoring.
- Illnesses and/or Infections: Illnesses such as colds and respiratory infections can cause snoring. If your cat sounds congested when purring and snores when they sleep, they could be under the weather. For more severe respiratory infections, you may also notice a discharge from the nose and eyes and a loss of appetite.
- Allergies: Allergies can also cause the airways to restrict, leading to allergy symptoms such as sneezing, couching, and itching. Snoring is another common sign, especially if your cat suffers from asthma.
- Obstruction: It is also possible that your playful cat accidentally inhaled a foreign material that is partially blocking the respiratory passage. This can also make it difficult for air to flow and mean your cat may suddenly start snoring.
If you are pretty certain that your cat is snoring rather than purring, keep an eye on it. Cats that have snored their whole lives are likely fine! However, a sudden increase in their snoring habits or loud and excessive deep breathing might be a sign you should take your cat to the vet.
When Else Do Cats Purr?
We all know that cats purr when they are asleep and all the reasons for it. However, sleeping is far from the only time that cats purr, and there are plenty of other times you may hear these calming vibrations escape your kitty’s mouth. Here are just a few examples of when cats purr and why:
- They are in a relaxed environment and feel safe and secure
- You are petting them and they feel happy and sociable
- They feel nervous about being stroked or picked up
- They are thinking about food, often heard combined with a “meow” noise
- Your cat is in pain and purring is helping them to heal
- Kittens are communicating to their mothers that they are okay
- Mother cats are singing calming lullabies to their kittens
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive and cats can purr in many different situations. To figure out why they are purring, it is best to assess the whole situation. However, a cat that purrs when it is asleep is usually a happy one!
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
As you have learned in this article, it is completely normal for cats to purr while they sleep. It is nearly always a good sign, indicating that they feel happy, content, and safe. They could also be having dreams, bonding with their other feline friends, or healing both your and their bodies.
However, it is important to distinguish purring from snoring. The two do sound subtly different, and you can usually tell a cat is purring by noticing whether your cat is near you, near other cats, or showing signs that they are dreaming.
If you think your cat is snoring instead, pay close attention to when they snore. Is it permanent? Has it been getting progressively worse? Is the snoring in combination with other symptoms such as discharge from the eyes and nose? If so, take your cat to the vet who can make sure there is nothing wrong with your furry friend.