Can a cat lose the ability to purr?

By Margaret Gunning

Hello! I was delighted to find your cat site, which has more cat lore in it than anything I’ve seen. I look forward to further exploration.

Bentley a cat with no purr

Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Can a cat lose the ability to purr? I have a lovely cat named Bentley, and though he is affectionate and a lap-sitter, I have never heard him purr. I think I feel a small vibration when I am holding him, but maybe not. He very seldom meows (maybe a few times a week) and it’s very quiet. He does (fairly rarely) make other sounds, chattering when he sees a bird, grunting to get our attention, chirping (though he did more of that when we first got him).

About Bentley (I made an animation of him from a few photos, above): he is a reasonably large, three-year-old neutered male tabby. We adopted him from the SPCA when he was about a year old. I saw his mug shot on the web site and was very attracted to it, even though we had intended to get a kitten. They could not tell us much about him except that someone had found him wandering around injured and brought him in. He was quite thin and had puncture wounds on his shoulders, indicating a dog or coyote attack. It was quite bad, so he may have been picked up and thrashed. By the time we adopted him he was bald on top (shaved), but healed.

When I saw him, the connection was instant. He ran up to me and wanted to be picked up and just melted into my arms. This was our cat. His manners are impeccable (he has since been neutered) and the attachment to us is strong. I get a sense of him protecting us, which I haven’t had with other cats.

Though he is fairly bold and rarely hides, he does NOT want us to go out. He rubs all over our legs and on every wall and object, and squeezes into a box by the door looking adorable. Sometimes he even climbs into his cat carrier. By the time we go out the door he’s walking away to have a nap.

I have always wondered if this attack somehow damaged his vocal cords, or if he’s just naturally quiet. Maybe he never did purr? I do wonder about lingering trauma. Though he’s generally friendly, there are spaces around him (right in front or above him) that he is sensitive about and he will actually back up if you try to touch him. His favourite place to be scratched is between his shoulder blades (where he was attacked!)

He is in good health and gained 4 ½ pounds after we adopted him. (He’s not fat – just big-boned.) The vet has never seen a cat lose its purr, so I wondered if such a thing was possible. He is certainly a loyal, affectionate and grateful kitty.

If you have any thoughts, I’d be interested in hearing them. Thank you!

All the best,

Margaret Gunnning

Comment from Michael.

Through building this website my thoughts on this are that individual domestic cats have a wide range of personal characteristics and one relates to their vocalisations. Individual cats make slightly different sounds and unusual sounds sometimes. And some cats are almost silent. They rarely meow and when they do it is a silent meow. There are also breed characteristics – vocal Siamese and silent meow British Shorthair. I believe that Bentley just has a very silent or non-vocal purr. I don’t think this has happened because of a lingering trauma. Domestic cats get over trauma well in my experience. They forget and move on.

That said I would welcome the thoughts of others in a comment. I am certainly not 10 sure that I am correct. Thanks Margaret for sharing your experience and asking. It is an interesting topic.

5 thoughts on “Can a cat lose the ability to purr?”

  1. Bentley update: I think he does purr, but at first I did not recognize it as such. When he’s feeling particularly relaxed, pleased, or affectionate, he starts to make a sort of soft wheezing, almost whistling sound. If you feel his throat or the back of his neck, it’s vibrating slightly. He also has a very soft meow, so maybe the purr matches the meow? Or I have the world’s first whistling cat.

    • Hi Margaret, I think Bentley proves that all domestic cats have their variations on the standard vocalizations. Some are more extreme than others. That applies to Bentley. I really like that. Their variability in sounds reflects the same thing for the human voice although cats have a wider range.

  2. Our MaMa cat Theo was adopted by me 11-yrs ago. I picked her up off the street, tucked her inside my coat since the weather was cold and carried her home. I’m not too sure how long she was on her own outside? Theo was about 4-months old then.
    she purrs and makes other winey sounds and grunts growls and is an epic snorer, but does not meow very often. When she does it’s for a good reason and comes out in a sort of pitiful whisper.

    Eva-I have heard of cats having trouble with their larynx.I chop up her meat and give it to her either broiled or from a can such as tuna or chicken.She is an older cat so I am not sure if her eating habits are related to a throat problem?
    FYI freepost:Eva

    Laryngeal Disease in Cats | petMD › Cat Conditions
    In cats, the incidence of laryngeal disease is based on limited reports in the literature … Symptoms are directly related to the degree of impairment or restriction of … to the voice box (larynx), throat (pharynx), windpipe (trachea) and other organs …

  3. all cats r different. my Lex is a “stealth purrer”. he purrs, but u have to b really close to him to hear it. if he opens his mouth(yawning eating et al)u will hear him, but the kitties we fostered(& kept)& Blake, our other cat, purr quite loudly. u can hear THEM from across the room. another point, when i 1st got Lex, at 3mos old, he didnt meow much & when he did it was raspy & quiet. now hes VERY loud & meows all the time, but i hear thats a big ringtail thing. he swears he can speak like a human & we will go back n forth between his meows & my answers. so im sure ur big kitty is fine & that that is just how he is. sometimes i wish Lex was quieter like when we 1st got him…jk!

    • Thanks Ed. Nice information. You are the same as me when it comes to conversation with our cat. Lex has a better meow than my Gabriel. In fact my cat does not meow. He squeaks, barks and trills.


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