No doubt this question has been asked before, but the Straight Dope Message Board search never seems to work for me. I tried to Google Search these message boards on the topic, but with no success.
I’ve read and heard a lot about what it really means when your cat is purring. Everyone seems to have a different answer. There’s also the question of how cats purr.
“Cats don’t purr just when they’re feeling chipper — they also purr when they’re frightened or badly hurt. Purring doesn’t have any specific emotional connotation; rather it seems to be a kind of homing device. Cats learn the signal in the first few days of kittenhood, when they can’t see, hear, or smell very well. The mother cat purrs to call the kittens to nurse — unable to hear the sound, the kitten can feel the vibrations.
There are two schools of thought on exactly how a cat purrs. One theory traces the vibrations to a set of “false vocal cords,” a bundle of membranes that lies above the genuine vocal chords and seems to have no other clear function. The other opinion locates the purr in the vibrations of the hyoid apparatus, a series of small bones connecting the skull and the larynx that nominally serves to support the tongue. Since it’s difficult to induce a cat to purr while you’re examining his hyoid apparatus, the truth may never be known.”
This was written in 1976.
I’ve heard that cat’s don’t purr when they are happy, period. I’ve heard that cat’s purr to get attention. I’ve heard that cat’s purr to tell you that they’re in a fragile state.
My parents have two cats, who I love dearly. It’s extremely hard for me to believe that a cat doesn’t purr out of affection. I know they have other reasons to “hum”, like Cecil mentioned, (when frightened or badly hurt), but it seems to me that cat’s generally do purr when they are happy or feeling “lovable”. Am I misreading what my parent’s cats are trying to tell me?
Also, do we still not know HOW a cat purrs? Seems like something we would have learned by now.
I wish I knew what cats were thinking. Do they feel love? Do they get depressed? Are they happy? Are they sad?