Why Do Cats Purr?
- by Nick de Wit
If you're a cat owner, you may have spent some time puzzling over that most characteristic cat trait: purring. And it's not just domesticated cats that purr; most wild cats do it, too. We all assume that when our cats purr, they're indicating that they are happy, comfortable, and relaxed, but that isn't always true. Although this phenomenon has been studied for decades, scientists are still not able to discern the exact why and how, but they have given their best guess as to this particularly curious behaviour.
How Do Cats Purr?
Research has shown that a cat's purr starts in the brain. A message from the cortex will be sent to the laryngeal muscle causing a twitch at 25 to 150 vibrations per second. The sound of a purr is produced when the cat inhales, and the air touches the vibrating muscles. A purr will vary from cat to cat as some are more high pitched and others are so low pitched that us humans can feel it in our bodies.
Now that we've looked into the how, let's take a look at the why.
Why Do Cats Purr?
As mentioned above, many cat owners believe that a cat's purr is a sign of contentment. But they can also purr when they feel frightened or nervous. Imagine if a purr were the equivalent of a smile, just like humans, cat's would 'smile' when they are nervous or scared. Here are some informed guesses as to why cats purr:
A cat tends to purr when they are happy. Usually, if a cat is relaxed, you will be able to tell by their body language. If your cat is laying on their back and has a stiff tail, your cat will be showing you they are feeling comfortable and relaxed.
Some cats might purr when it's feeding time. It's quite straightforward to distinguish between a solicitation purr and a happy purr. A solicitation purr will combine the usual purr with an unpleasant sound that resembles either a cry or a "meow".
Kitten and mother bonding
Cats can purr from a very early stage of life; usually, when they are a few days old, they develop the ability to purr. Many believe kitties purr to tell their mothers they are okay and the mother will respond in kind to soothe their kitten, acting as a kind of lullaby— this type of purring increases the bond between the mother and the kitten.
Purring requires a lot of energy from your cat, so when they are hurt or sick, you might have wondered why they continue purring? Some believe that cats purr as a soothing mechanism, as they attempt to self-soothe when they are hurt.
Some even speculate that a cat's purr has obscure healing properties! Cats will usually purr when they are sick, hurt, near-death or labour, and any occurrence that causes them to feel pain. Scientists believe that purring is not only a self-soothing mechanism, but helps them to heal faster. The low vibration in their purr helps mend broken bones, ease breathing, lessen pain and swelling, help rebuild torn muscles, repair tendons, and more.
It is theorised that a cat's purr can also contribute to their owner's wellbeing. The same 'magical' healing properties that your cat benefits from can also benefit you! The logic behind this points to the vibrations produced in a purr. A vibration between 20 to 140 oscillations per second can help reduce stress and lessen the chances of a heart attack, contributing to your overall wellbeing.
Here are some of our best guesses on how this can benefit the pet owner:
Decreased stress hormones
As mentioned above, a cat's purr not only releases endorphins in cats but reduces humans stress hormones. This helps decrease their blood pressure and contributes to their overall wellbeing.
Cats tend to heal faster from injuries and have lower chances of developing bone and joint cancer. The logic stands that if cats can recover quickly from injuries, their purr can help humans, too.
When a cat purrs, it helps them breathe better. A person that suffers from respiratory issues might breathe easier around a purring cat.
So, now that we have a better understanding of the theories behind purring, we can conclude that this behaviour is a lot more complicated than initially thought. And it is essential to remember that Scientists have just provided us with educated guesses as to what this all means, and the studies behind the healing powers of a purr are still inconclusive at this stage.
What's your opinion on the power of the purr?