The Mystery of Purring: Why Cats Purr When You Pick Them Up

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Purring is one of the most fascinating and endearing aspects of cats. It is a soothing and comforting sound for cat owners, often associated with contentment and relaxation in their feline friends. But have you ever wondered why cats purr when you pick them up?

Is it a sign of happiness or something else entirely? This blog explores the science behind purring and what it might mean when your cat purrs as you hold them in your arms.


Why do cats purr when you pick them up?


Cats purr when you pick them up because they are generally content and happy around their owners.

Cat purring is a sign of comfort and relaxation, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes, it even suggests that the cat is affectionate toward its owner.

When cats purr, it is similar to hugging you as they feel safe in your arms.

It’s important to remember that petting your cat in your arms encourages it’s purring, so make sure you give them lots of love and attention when picking them up.


1) The Science of Purring


To understand why cats purr when picked up, we must first understand how the purring mechanism works.

Purring is a unique vocalization produced by the rapid contraction and relaxation of a cat’s laryngeal muscles. These contractions cause air to pass through the cat’s voice box, creating a distinct purring sound.

Contrary to popular belief, cats don’t only purr when they are happy. Instead, research shows that cats purr in various situations, ranging from contentment and relaxation to pain, fear, or anxiety.

This brings us to the question: why do cats purr when picked up?


2) A Calming Mechanism


One theory behind cats purring when picked up is that it serves as a calming mechanism in stressful or unsettling situations.

There has been much debate as to why cats purr when they are picked up, with some purr-ologists suggesting that it is a calming mechanism to self-soothe when being handled.

Supporting this theory is the fact that cats often purr when in pain or during medical procedures.

Additionally, deeper and more rhythmic purring can produce vibrational frequencies that have been shown to promote bone healing and increase muscle mass in cats.

Beyond their scientific utility, cats’ purrs also bring us enormous joy with the knowledge that our little furballs are happy and content in our care.


3) A Sign of Affection


I’m often asked why cats purr when you pick them up. While the physical and emotional benefits of this behavior for cats have been well documented, many people don’t realize that it’s also used as a sign of affection from their feline friends.

Feline biologist Paul Leyhausen observed that cats purr when contented or petted. Many owners experience an amplified version of this pleasant vocalization when picking up a cat.

The physical closeness provided by human contact results in better proprioception (body recognition) and an increased flow of oxytocin – the so-called love hormone – which makes cats even more comfortable and reinforces the bond between man and beast.


4) Communicating Needs and Wants


Cats use purrs to communicate their needs and wants.

A purr can indicate a range of emotions, including companionship, pleasure, contentment, and even pain.

It’s thought that cats evolved the ability to express themselves through purring, giving them an effective way to communicate without making any noise that would alert prey or predators in the wild.

When you pick up your cat, and they start to purr, it could be telling you they feel safe with you and requesting your affection – so make sure to give them some love.

Observing your cat’s body language and overall demeanor when holding them is essential to understand their purring intent better. For example, if your cat seems relaxed and comfortable, their purring is probably a positive indication.


5) Healing Benefits


Interestingly, research suggests that purring could have physiological benefits for cats as well.

The vibrations created by purring have been shown to promote healing in bones and tissues, reduce pain, and even decrease inflammation.

This means that, in some cases, cats may purr when picked up to initiate these benefits, particularly if they’re feeling vulnerable or physically uncomfortable.


How to pick up a cat correctly



As mentioned above, some cats love it when we hold them. But, on the other hand, other cats dislike being held. Therefore, you need to be careful when picking up a cat. But how exactly do you pick her up from the ground to your lap?

Note that when you pick up your cat, she might be frightened.

Unfortunately, you should only pick her up when she is in a good mood and wants to be petted. Otherwise, your cat might scratch you, or you might end up stressing your cat.

Before you proceed to make contact with her, consider the following factors:


Your cat’s tolerance levels


Now, as we all tickle differently, cats will also enjoy different petting areas. As we have previously mentioned, some cats do not enjoy being petted at all. It is widespread when you are dealing with a new cat.

Well, changing residency will cause nervousness and anxiety.

Therefore, you must ensure she is comfortable before you reach out. Also, understand her tolerance level. For example, does she react aggressively when you touch her? Well, if so, then you need to come up with a better way to approach your cat.

If she is trying to get away from you, release her immediately. Your cat does not want to be held ‘hostage.’ She will display signs of aggression if you try to.


Approach her calmly


How you approach your cat will determine if she wants to be picked up. Therefore, you should be very strategic when you are about to pick up your kitty. Pay attention to her overall body language.

When approaching your cat to pick her up, you do not approach her from the front or behind. Instead, we recommend that you come to your cat from the side.

The good thing is that your cat has a strong sense of hearing, which means she can hear you approaching.

Well, what is wrong with approaching her from the front, then? After all, she can see you, right? Well, understand that you appear pretty significant to your cat. Her eye level is low, near the ground, as we all know. But, on the other hand, you are probably a standing figure over 5 feet. You’d also be frightened if someone was 5 feet taller than you, wouldn’t you?

Now, approach her from the side compared to the front or behind. Approaching her from the back will also frighten her. No one likes it when someone creeps on them.

You must, therefore, learn how to approach a cat appropriately before you can pick her up.


Identify your cat’s favorite tickle places.


Before you go ahead to pick up your cat, identify her tickle places. For instance, while one cat might enjoy physical contact with you, another may not.

You will have to use the trial-and-error method to do so. For instance, when petting her, note when she gets away from you. She will also react when she is frustrated.

Now, when you pick her up, only touch her favorite places. Well, you might have to use the trial-and-error method. Once again, pay attention to your cat’s body language. You will tell when she likes it and when she hates it.




Cats are complex creatures with a broad range of reasons for purring. When your cat purrs as you pick them up, it can be a sign of contentment, a calming mechanism, a means of communication, or even an attempt at self-healing.

By observing your cat’s behavior and body language when they are held, you can better understand their reasons for purring and make sure you provide the comfort and attention they need. Ultimately, it’s a fascinating and heartwarming aspect of our furry friends that continues to bring us closer to understanding the mysterious world of cats.






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