Four Reasons Why Cats Purr
It’s been an exhausting day. You crawl to the couch and pull yourself up, throwing a blanket over your legs and reaching for the nearest escapist magazine. Your little furry ball of emotional support soon follows. They curl up on top of your open magazine, look up at you with blinky eyes and begin to ... purr. You’ve found your happy place. You close your eyes, smile and revel in that sweet, sweet sound.
And then you ask yourself, why do cats purr? Because they love you, of course. But it’s actually more complicated than that. Here is a deeper look into the into the sound that makes all of our days better.
How do Cats Purr?
Before we delve into the reasons why cats purr, we should take a look at how exactly our furry friends make that sweet, sweet sound.
The science of how cats purr has changed over the years and many theories have been proposed. It is surprisingly still not fully settled. But the most accepted theory is that purring involves the brain, larynx (the throat) and the diaphragm, which facilitates breathing by contracting and relaxing to force air in an out. The brain sends signals to the larynx and diaphragm to oscillate, which causes tension the part of the larynx known as the glottis, which includes the vocal cords and the space between them.
According to Great Pet Care, a purr results from tension and relaxation on the glottis when a cat breathes in or out. And one of the unique elements of the purr is that other vocalizations, such as meows, happen only during the expiration of breath.
So now that we know how cats purr, lets take a closer look at why.
How it all begins. The Mother-Kitten Relationship
Few things are as precious or fragile as a new-born kitten. Kittens can’t see or hear at birth, so it is the vibration of their mother’s purr that leads them to warmth, comfort and safety. Within days, kittens start purring back to express their contentment and pleasure. And that, in turn, better helps mama cat locate her babies at feeding time.
Purring is also thought to help keep newborn kittens safe from predators. It is believed that some predators either can’t hear purring or are less likely to react to the sound of a purr because the purring sound doesn’t indicate, as would a cry, a potential prey animal in distress.
Keeping themselves fit and healthy
While cats don’t actually have nine lives, it often seems like they do. They get themselves into jams and then, with the grace only a cat possesses (or not), they get themselves out again. But medical science also backs up the nine-lives
theory. According to, Pets WebMD, cats also fair better after surgeries than dogs. And purring is thought to have a lot to do with that.
The frequencies of cats’ purrs make their entire small bodies vibrate, and these vibrations can help them heal their wounds and bones, lessen pain and
swelling, build muscles and repair tendons. And that’s good for more than just healing injury. It also helps once wild and active cats stay strong in their now cushier lives. As we all know, cats spend a lot of their time preserving energy (also known as napping in their favorite Cat Box Classics box) and waiting for a likely successful hunting opportunity, even if that’s just tackling a rainbow play wand or meandering to their bowl. So purring is believed to help stimulate otherwise idle, napping bones to help prevent them from becoming brittle or weak.
(How do we get in on this purring as exercise deal?)
They’re Trying to Calm Themselves
In addition to being good for the bones, those low frequency purring vibrations are also good for the kitty soul. What many cat owners don’t know is that cats
also purr when they are stressed, in pain or very sick. The wondrous thing
about purring is that the low-frequency vibrations help cats ease their breathing and soothe tension.
It’s similar to the slow breathing many humans try to do when their boss unexpectedly asks to see them for a moment. Deep breathing helps humans lower stress because it sends a signal to the brain to relax. Our brains then send that message to our bodies, which helps calm heart rates, lower blood
pressure and ease rapid breathing. It’s largely the same with cats. According to Scientific America, cats actually purr on both the inhale and exhale with at a frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz. (Otherwise known as that sweet, sweet sound). The Humane Society of the United States characterizes purring in those instances as similar to a small child sucking their thumb. It’s just a gentle way to calm themselves.
The Reason we all Know: They’re Happy and Relaxed
This is the reason for purring we’re all blissfully familiar with. Our furry friends are curled up in our laps, getting a belly rub in the sun or settling in on top of us for a night’s sleep, and, like they did when they were just a few weeks old with their mothers, they purr because they are happy and content.
As an added bonus, much scientific evidence suggests cats purrs are also good for humans. Exposure to a purring cat has been shown to calm breathing in
humans, lower blood pressure and cat owners even have a lower risk of heart disease. And there is growing evidence that those low frequency vibrations that help heal cat bones do the same for humans.
So, while the scientists and cat behaviorists have delved into and uncovered the varied and complicated answer to the question why do cats purr, the answer was already clear to all cat owners. Our cats purr because they love us.
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