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Hope it doesn't sound like a silly question.

Context: My cat is not the most affectionate cat in the world. But sometimes she comes to search for love and to play. When I pet her, obviously, she likes it and starts purring. She is the loudest cat that I have ever heard purring and she will not stop for like fifteen minutes.

I'm worried she's getting tired of purring so long and she's only purring because I am petting her. Or maybe she wants to sleep (she goes numb when I pet her), but can't because she is purring.

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    Welcome to SE.Pets! This question is freakin' adorable. If you have any further curiosity on this subject, please feel free to ask more questions! – Nat Nov 10 '20 at 19:03
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    It is actually an interesting question, as evidenced by this post entering hot network questions I assume a lot of people have wondered about this at some point in their lives at least once, even if they never actually articulated this question in words. I don't have any references, but I have always assumed that purring is not facilitated by tension but by relaxation of some muscle group in trachea, and the purring sound is just naturally and effortlessly made as the cat is breathing and the air flow causes vibration of the loose folds that were loosened by relaxed muscles. – lila Nov 10 '20 at 22:27
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    Related: pets.stackexchange.com/q/519/10612 – gerrit Nov 11 '20 at 13:28
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Purring is a sign of wellbeing for the house cat. She certainly purrs because you are petting her, but if she would be sleeping on you then chances are she would probably also be purring without you touching her.

Imagine this. When you pet her it's sort of like when you get a massage. You might fall asleep or you might drift off a little bit. Your cat is the same. Petting her for 15 minutes if she's purring the whole time is equivalent to her being completely relaxed. It is only natural for her to fall asleep.

If she is tired of the petting and want you to stop, she would just move or show you by play-attacking you. Cats can stop purring immediately if something makes them uncomfortable.

Edit: Like @Ross Presser mentioned, cats can purr while in pain, but this does not mean you should ever be alarmed when your cat purrs. However, it is important to check in on your cat and keep an eye on how they are doing. If they show any other new strange behaviour or react in a negative way combined with the purring, then a good suggestion would be to have a check-up at the vet.

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    I'd say the last point is very valid - we've got a new rescue cat that quickly gets overwhelmed with being petted at the moment - he's getting better, but still switches from purring and rubbing against your hand, to full attack mode in under 10 seconds. They do stop quickly, and they make it very clear when they want you to stop – lupe Nov 11 '20 at 16:49
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    Purring is usually a sign of well-being, but sometimes they do purr while in pain, notably when in labor. – Ross Presser Nov 11 '20 at 19:34
  • @lupe I've seen the same thing. I've often wondered: Is that "play-attack" as CB Madsen mentions or real attack? Any ideas? – RockPaperLz- Mask it or Casket Nov 13 '20 at 10:14
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    @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket I think it's a real attack - he seems to want to defend himself, and I think it's a sort of trauma response, in that he doesn't know what to do when he feels overwhelmed and wants you to stop - most cats might sort of bat you away, or push you off, or might nip you - he just goes for it, with all claws and teeth out. We're working on it, and he's getting some anti anxiety meds at the moment that are helping hugely with this, which makes me think it's the case of enjoying the attention, but then getting completely overstimulated – lupe Nov 13 '20 at 17:02
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    @lupe it could also be that your cat gets overstimulated, which is very common for cats. I have a male cat who is the most lovely little fella, but at some point he will just have had enough and will attack/play-attack you. It probably just means he needs a minute. – CB Madsen Nov 29 '20 at 12:25
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There's no good reason to assume that purring is tiring for cats. Whilst the exact mechanism by which cats purr is not fully understood, it seems to be an almost passive part of breathing to them. Specifically, it seems that they have specific nerve circuitry which, when activated, causes the vocal cords to flap quickly, producing the purr we hear. As far as we know, cats don't need to do anything else than to feel like purring in order for it to occur, much like how smiling works for humans. This suggest it's reasonable to assume purring is not significantly more of an exertion to a cat than just breathing is, probably comparable to a happy hum for a human.

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  • Perhaps it is some kind of signaling, e.g. "Continue what you are doing"? – Peter Mortensen Nov 13 '20 at 19:08
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I knew a cat who literally purred the entire time he was awake. His vet liked to say that he "didn't know how to turn his engine off". It didn't appear to tire him at all, he had just as much energy as other cats. He never had any trouble falling asleep either (the purring would just fade out over the course of a couple of minutes). I wouldn't worry about the purring. If it was bothering or inconveniencing the cat at all, they'd either stop purring or move farther away so you couldn't pet them.

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I'm pretty sure your cat is perfectly fine. My cat also likes to come lie in my lap to get cuddled, and she purrs loudly for most of it. Then she suddenly stops and I look down to see that she has fallen asleep. Trust me, purring won't stop a cat from falling asleep.

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