Many cat owners are always looking for more information about their cat’s body language and vocalizations, so you’re not alone. Chuffing, a relatively loud exhalation that isn’t quite a purr, a growl, or a hiss, and it’s often one of the most confusing sounds for cat owners to interpret! So, why do cats chuff?
Cats chuff to communicate that they are happy and to show interest in what they are doing. Cats also chuff to communicate with other cats, to comfort other cats, to show dominance, and to practice their hunting behavior. Chuffing serves a wide range of purposes depending on the context.
Learning all about your cats’ vocalizations and how they communicate can be an essential part of being a great cat owner. Here’s what you need to know about chuffing and what it means when your cat starts making this strange vocalization.
Reasons Your Cat Chuffs
Here are some of the primary reasons cats chuff and how you can identify each type.
Chuffing Is A Large Cat’s Purr
This one doesn’t apply to domesticated cats, but we wanted to mention it since big cat chuffing is where we get the term!
Chuffing is the equivalent of a purr for a lot of your cat’s biggest feline relatives. Leopards, tigers, and other big cats can’t purr since their vocal apparatus is arranged for different kinds of noises like roaring.
So instead of purring, chuffing can be used as a kind of friendly greeting noise between cats. Big cats may also chuff because they are happy or because they are hurt and want attention. Any reason your domesticated cat might want to purr can make a big cat want to chuff.
Why does this matter for domesticated cats?
Because domesticated cat behavior and wild cat behavior can be very similar. Seeing how and when big cats chuff can help us understand our feline friends as well.
Greeting Other Cats
One of the most common reasons for domesticated cats to chuff is the same reason that their bigger cousins chuff, to greet one another!
Chuffing is a little less common between cats that already know each other, but it’s a common friendly vocalization for your cats when they first get to know another cat. If you’re starting to introduce two cats together and they start chuffing and seem relaxed, that’s a good first sign.
Your cats may also chuff if another cat surprises them, but they aren’t mad. Meowing and hissing can both be used by your cats to tell others that they are upset by surprise. A chuff can be a good sign that your cat is open to playing and doesn’t mind being surprised.
Courting behavior is usually only used between intact cats, making it a little less common in most pet homes. However, if you have intact cats, chuffing may signify that they are courting, especially if the female cat is in heat.
Usually, both cats with chuff at least to start if they are courting, but the male cat may chuff more often or loudly.
Courting behavior may also be accompanied by lowing, yowling, meowing, and hissing. All of these noises are normal as part of courting and mating between cats. However, they can also be signs that your cats are unhappy and upset, so it’s essential to monitor them closely if they show this behavior.
Chuffing isn’t universally part of mating behavior and courting, but it’s relatively common.
Practicing Hunting Behavior
One theory behind chuffing explains why cats often seem to chuff when they see insects and birds, especially if they can’t reach them.
In this case, chuffing might be a sign that your cat is interested and happy; after all, hunting behaviors are very stimulating and can help avoid boredom.
But many experts think it’s more likely that chuffing is a way to practice a specific kind of bite that cats use when hunting birds. Chuffing closely mimics the movements of this bite, which quickly kills birds and small rodents, so they don’t struggle and potentially hurt your cat.
So, repeatedly chuffing when your cat sees a possible prey animal is a way for them to practice that critical bite. Domesticated cats will practice and chuff this way even if they’ve never caught a bird or don’t show any other signs of interest in the bird.
Your Cat Is Excited
Another possible reason your cat is chuffing is that they are excited! This is one of the reasons cats sometimes chuff at each other or their toys.
Chuffing can be a way of inviting interaction with other cats, so a cat that has a lot of energy may chuff as a way to ask to play or tell other cats that they are happy and excited.
We already talked about how chuffing can be related to hunting, and since hunting and play use a lot of the same behaviors for domesticated cats. So your cats may chuff at one another while playing, even though they have no intention of hurting each other.
Excited chuffing is also usually why your cat might start chuffing in its sleep. A sleeping chuff is a pretty good sign that your cat is dreaming about something exciting, especially if their face is moving or their paws are twitching simultaneously.
Is Chuffing Normal
Yes, chuffing is perfectly normal, even though not all domesticated cats do it. Some breeds seem to be more prone to chuffing, like Maine Coon cats, while other quieter breeds may rarely, if ever, chuff.
Some cat owners may be confused the first time they hear a cat chuff. Why? Because chuffing is a vocalization that not all domesticated cats use and tends to be a little less common than meowing, hissing, and other well-known vocalizations.
All that means is that owners don’t have to worry too much if they hear a chuff for the first time or never hear one of their cat’s chuff at all. Both options are entirely normal. It’s just about whether your cat chooses to communicate by chuffing or not.