Why Does My Cat Keep Swallowing While Purring? The Vet Tips

Why Does My Cat Keep Swallowing While Purring? The Vet Tips

As a cat behavior expert, I’ve had many clients ask me why their precious purring pet keeps swallowing or gagging. At first, this throaty behavior can seem quite peculiar and concerning. But never fear – in most cases, a bit of intermittent swallowing mid-purr is completely normal and no cause for alarm!

In this article, I’ll demystify why kitties tend to swallow while purring and when it may signal an underlying issue needing veterinary attention. I’ll also share insider tips for minimizing harmless gagging episodes when they do crop up. So read on for the fascinating science behind your feline’s funky purr-swallow pattern and how to decode if it means your cat’s health is A-OK or in need of a vet visit. With the insights I’ll provide here, you can rest easy knowing this odd behavior is not only common, but usually no reason to pause that precious purring!

The Science of Purring

To understand why swallowing often accompanies purring, we first need to explore how cats purr in the first place. When your cat purrs, she’s making small, rapid, rhythmic movements of her larynx and soft palate. The diaphragm muscles also oscillate to produce that beloved vibrating “motor” sound.

It turns out that as the soft palate moves during purring, swallowing occurs naturally as part of the process. It’s simply an innate part of the physiology. Researchers still debate the exact purpose of purring, but studies suggest it aids communication, provides self-soothing, and may even promote healing.

Whatever the reasons for purring, the accompanying swallowing is normal. But excessive or disruptive swallowing can interrupt the purr pattern. As a general rule, occasional swallowing during purring is expected. But recurrent or severe gagging, head shaking, coughing and lip licking while purring could indicate an irritation or obstruction in the throat. Let’s explore typical vs. problematic swallowing next.

As an aside, researching the science behind purring fascinates me as a cat lover! I’ll never forget the first time I witnessed kittens purring while nursing – that nurturing sound is one of the joys of felines.

lovely cat

Normal Purr-Swallowing Versus Excessive or Problematic Swallowing

It’s perfectly normal for swallowing to occur while your cat purrs. As a cat behaviorist, I commonly see benign purr-swallowing when kittens nurse, while cats are being petted, and when older cats purr in relaxation. An occasional gag or swallow amid the rumbling purr is no cause for alarm!

Warning Signs of Excessive Swallowing

However, cats may over-swallow if something is irritating their throat or interrupting their purring. Watch for these signs of potentially problematic swallowing:

  • Repeated swallowing with little purring in between gags.
  • Gagging or coughing episodes disrupting purring.
  • Frequent swallowing along with head shaking.

Any of these could signal an underlying medical issue requiring veterinary attention. Don’t panic yet – we’ll cover possible causes next. But do monitor your cat and contact your vet if you observe recurrent or severe swallowing behavior.

Potential Causes of Excessive Swallowing

From working with felines for years, I’ve discovered excessive swallowing while purring can have several possible sources:

  • Allergies causing throat irritation.
  • Thyroid disease.
  • Nausea.
  • Dental disease or esophageal irritation.
  • Foreign object lodged in throat.
  • Viral infection like calicivirus.

There may also be behavioral causes like stress or anxiety triggering agitated purr-swallowing. Only your veterinarian can accurately diagnose the specific reason. We’ll discuss when to seek help next.

The keys are noticing if swallowing becomes frequent or severe, and monitoring for any other concerning symptoms. While frustrating, getting to the root cause is doable with your vet’s wisdom!

When to See the Vet About Excessive Swallowing

As a cat expert, I generally recommend contacting your veterinarian if your cat has recurrent or severe episodes of gagging, swallowing, or lip licking during purring. This will help determine whether an underlying medical issue is causing your cat distress or if it is merely benign behavior.

Some examples of diagnostic tests your vet may run include:

  • Bloodwork to check for conditions like hyperthyroidism
  • X-rays or ultrasound to visualize the esophagus and throat area
  • Oral exam to inspect for dental disease, ulcers, or other abnormalities
  • Allergy testing to identify potential irritants

In addition to excessive gagging or swallowing, also watch for other worrying symptoms that should prompt an urgent vet visit. These include lethargy, decreased appetite or inability to eat, weight loss, drooling, and bad breath. Any time your cat is in obvious distress or you suspect something is wrong, don’t hesitate to call your vet.

While excessive swallowing may end up being harmless cat quirkiness, your vet can best determine if treatment is needed. I always say trust your intuition – you know your feline friend best. If your gut says something isn’t right, your vet will be glad you brought kitty in.

lovely cat

Managing Benign Swallowing in Healthy Cats

For cats exhibiting occasional or mild purr-swallowing not linked to any illness, there are some tips you can try at home to minimize harmless gagging episodes:

  • Gently stroke your cat’s throat or distract them with a favorite toy when swallowing occurs. This can shift their focus and settle the behavior.
  • Feed smaller, more frequent meals rather than one large daily meal, which may trigger swallowing.
  • Try to keep stress levels low to avoid anxious purr-swallowing. Let kitty relax in their favorite quiet spot.
  • Monitor for any worsening or additional symptoms and keep track of frequency. This will help your vet if a visit becomes needed.

Importantly, contact your vet promptly if swallowing becomes more frequent or severe. As a cat expert, I can’t stress enough that a medical issue should not be ruled out until your veterinarian makes that determination after an exam.

In many cases, benign purr-swallowing just takes some patience and TLC. One of my cats gags when overeager for treats – slowing down the treats dispensing did the trick! But we always want to ensure our cats’ health and comfort above all.

FAQ About Cats Swallowing While Purring

Q: Why does my cat make choking sounds while purring?

A: The gagging or coughing sounds some cats make while purring are caused by excess swallowing. As explained earlier, some swallowing is normal during purring due to the soft palate movements. But recurrent choking noises point to over-swallowing, likely from an irritation or obstruction in the throat. It’s best to get your vet’s advice to determine the cause and treatment.

Q: Is it safe for my cat to swallow while nursing?

A: Yes, it is perfectly normal and safe for nursing kittens to swallow while purring. The motion of drinking milk coupled with purr vibrations simply leads to some harmless gagging. There is no need to separate or interrupt the kittens as they nurse. Just monitor for any worsening symptoms as they grow.

Q: Could swallowing while purring be a hairball?

A: Excessive gagging during purring can sometimes signal a hairball lodged in the esophagus. Cats tend to swallow repeatedly trying to clear the obstructing hairball. If you suspect this, try giving a hairball remedy product, but also contact your vet if swallowing persists, as hairballs can cause serious harm.

Q: Are some breeds more prone to purr-swallowing?

A: Certain flat-faced breeds like Persians and Exotics can be more susceptible to airway obstructions and gagging/choking episodes. Their shortened nasal passages cause increased swallowing efforts. But any breed can over-swallow during purring if experiencing discomfort or irritation in the throat.

Q: Should I give my cat a treat to stop the gagging when purring?

A: It’s best not to offer treats to interrupt swallowing, as this can reinforce the behavior. Instead, try distraction, soothing strokes, or moving kitty to a calm area. Treats are OK for regular purring. But for swallowing episodes, identify and address the source of irritation first before rewarding with food


In closing, mild or intermittent swallowing during your cat’s precious purring is very common and typically no cause for concern. Consider it an amusing quirk of being a feline! However, if gagging becomes chronic, disruptive, or occurs alongside other symptoms, do reach out to your vet to assess for potential illness requiring treatment.

Partnering with your trusted veterinarian and paying attention to patterns is key to decoding occasional benign behavior from signs of disease. With a little diligent observation and care, in most cases, that calming purr and the funny swallows that go with it can keep rumbling away, bringing joy to you and kitty. So take comfort knowing this peculiar cat conduct is far more common than concerning. Sit back, relax, and enjoy those rumbly purr machines, swallows and all!

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