Why Do Squirrels Purr? And What It Means


Ardent squirrel watchers know that squirrels are not quiet animals. Depending on their environment and activity, they will chirp, whistle, bark, rattle, cry, and so on, but did you know that squirrels also purr? It turns out that squirrels make this sound that’s typically synonymous with the cat family.    

Why Do Squirrels Purr?

Squirrels generally make vocal alarms, including a purr-like sound, to alert each other about imminent danger. Being small and defenseless, these mammals are vulnerable to attack from predators in the air, like hawks and owls, and those on the ground like cats, snakes, and human beings. This alarm lets others know and kills the element of surprise for their predators.

Like other purring animals, we can also assume that squirrels purr when they are content and happy, especially when they are nibbling on their favorite snacks and feeling satisfied. They may also purr when they are irritated.

It’s not clear whether squirrels purr for a specific reason. However, it’s possible that just like the feline species, they will purr for various reasons.

Let’s take a closer look at this behavior and what causes it.

What Does It Mean When A Squirrel Purrs At You?

If you have a pet squirrel and it’s purring at you, it means they are happy and content. Your pet is excited to see you because he knows you will play and give him attention. 

You may even notice them wagging their tail while they are purring, which makes it look similar to how a cat shows their happiness. 

Do Squirrels Purr Like Cats?

Squirrels don’t purr like cats. Some purr experts believe that a squirrel’s purr is more like a grunt. 

They claim that only the animals in the cat family have a real purr. They claim that a true purr can go on continuously while an animal is breathing in and out. 

While cats are said to purr while breathing in and out, squirrels can only audibly purr either while breathing in or breathing out, but not both continuously. A squirrel’s purring is very different from a cat. 

Do They Learn This Behavior From Cats?

Like many other animals, squirrels can purr, so they don’t necessarily learn this behavior from cats. However, if they are raised with cats, there’s a high chance that they’ll purr even more than they make other sounds.

In 2010, a family in Mississippi took in a baby squirrel named Rocky that had fallen out of its nest. They had a nursing cat at the time and decided that Rocky should be one of the litter. Soon enough, the baby squirrel learned the behavior and began to purr just like the kittens. 

It was shocking that the mother cat took in a squirrel, but it was something new to the residents that the story made the local news for it to start purring. However, squirrels have always been able to purr, and wild animal officials in the area weren’t shocked by the news.

Other Animals That Purr

Cats and squirrels aren’t the only animals that purr. Other animals that make a similar sound include:

Rabbits

When rabbits purr, it means they are content, mostly if they are nibbling on something. It’s usually a sign of appreciation and enjoyment. Unlike felines that purr through their throats, rabbits gently rub their teeth together.

Raccoons

Baby raccoons purr when they feel happy and safe, especially when their mother affectionately licks, nibbles, and holds them. They will purr continuously when in close contact with their mother, and she will also purr while caring for them. Other raccoons of various ages and males will purr when they are happy or showing and receiving affection.

Guinea Pigs

You can tell why your piggy is purring by the pitch and body language. A calm guinea pig making a deep purring sound means they are content and happy. On the other hand, if the purr is high pitched, the guinea pig is irritated and annoyed.

Lemurs

A ring-tailed lemur often purrs like a cat when stroked. Most males, however, purr to exert their dominance when faced with another male lemur.

Bears

Bear cubs tend to purr when they are happy, relaxed, and comforted, especially when suckling their mother.

Badgers

A sow (female badger) will purr, specifically while communicating to her cubs, calling them to come to her or encouraging them to stay close and follow her. She will also purr while carrying and grooming them. 

Genets

Baby genets (kits) typically purr throughout their first week of life. Studies have shown that the sound of a genet’s purr is similar to that of a cat. Being evolutionary cousins of cats with common ancestry makes this unsurprising. 

Elephants

Elephants are believed to purr to communicate with the rest of the herd or over long distances through low-pitched rumbles. Human beings can’t hear these rumbles but can feel them through a physical buzzing. You would be able to feel vibrations throughout your body while standing next to it.

Gorillas

Gorillas express their needs and feelings as well as their emotions like fear, joy, anger, and pleasure through loud vocalizations, including purrs. A gorilla’s purr is loud and distinct. The Gorilla Foundation demonstrates by video on their site (koko.org), their world-famous gorilla Koko purring.

Cheetahs

Cheetahs have the same vocal structure as regular cats and vocalize with the occasional purr. They purr such vigor causing their throat and chest hairs to pulsate. Zookeepers at Smithsonian National Zoo indicate that most cheetahs will not purr while human beings are close unless they feel comfortable.

Conclusion

Although there’s contention about where non-feline animals like squirrels can purr, as long as an animal can make a purr-like sound, it’s a purr. Squirrels purring could mean different things. 

Determining the specific reason will depend on what’s happening in that moment or by observing their body language, such as their jerky movements, or when they stare at you. You’ll then be able to tell if they are satisfied, happy, threatened, or irritated. 

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