I mentioned in this post that one of the criterion used to group wild cats is whether they purr or roar – As a general rule, cats that purr cannot roar, and cats that roar cannot purr continuously – although roaring cats can create sounds similar to purring. Let’s explore these behaviors in more detail!
I used to think a big cat’s roar was limited to that deep snarl we get from cartoons, kids’ movies, and the MGM lion. While this is an accurate depiction of one type of roar, there is another roar that’s probably more commonly used in the wild – a loud intonation that descends into a brief growl. For example, if the roar of a lion is performed in its entirety, it starts as a sort of moan, leads to a brief, gruff, growl-type sound, repeats these first two parts, and then finishes off with a few staccato grunts. The whole “song” from start to finish is quite a process! Not to mention a very unique and purposeful way to communicate.
Who Can Roar?
Only lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars can roar. The clouded leopard and snow leopard are exceptions – these cats do not roar.
Why Do Cats Roar?
- To establish territory & warn would-be intruders to stay away
- To advertise their location
- To call their young
- To find mates
The roar is a very powerful vocalization. For example, the roar of a lion can be heard from up to five miles away – especially on flat land. I’ve heard that anyone standing near a lion who is roaring at full strength can feel the sound vibrate right through them, like a great feline subwoofer. A tiger’s roar can be heard up to 1.8 miles away.
A recording can’t accurately capture the decibel level of a roar, but check out the videos below to at least get an idea of what a great cat’s roar is like.
I was delighted to discover not too long ago that purring, one of my favorite feline behaviors, is an ability given not only to our housecats, but to many wild cats as well! Can you imagine sitting next to a super-sized purr? Though I guess a cat doesn’t have to be big to purr big! But back to our wild friends . . .
Who Can Purr?
All cats except for those mentioned in the roaring section above can purr. This includes mountain lions (also known as cougars, panthers, or pumas), cheetahs, bobcats, lynxes, and smaller cats like the ones mentioned in this post.
Roaring cats may be able to make sounds similar to purring, but they are unable to purr continuously in the same way that other cats can. For example, instead of purring, big cats may “chuff” as a greeting.
To hear a tiger chuff, click here. Scroll down to locate the yellow soundclip boxes.
Why Do Cats Purr?
- To express affection, contentment, and friendship
- To communicate with kittens/cubs. Kittens/cubs are also able to purr shortly after they’re born – this interaction between mother and babies is meant to reassure and mutually express that all is well.
- When nervous or threatened, cats may purr as a sign of submission, to let their opposition know they mean no harm.
- When in pain. Purring releases endorphins that act as a natural aspirin. If you’ve seen a momma cat give birth, you may have noticed that she purred throughout the process.
- When otherwise injured. Sound frequencies in the same range as a cat’s purr have been known to improve bone density and promote healing! So perhaps in certain situations the cat’s purr is an attempt to self-heal. I can say from personal experience that a purring cat is good therapy for its human, so it makes sense that purring would be good therapy for the “purrer” as well!
Although the videos below aren’t quite the same as being near a purring cat of any size, they sure are sweet. Check them out!
Happy purrs, until next time!
Info courtesy of
- Google images
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