A cat purring. For many humans, the sound can be both relaxing and comforting. Research now reveals that a cat purring benefits health – for both the feline and the pet parent. Furthermore, the pleasant sound, generally regarded by most of us as an indication of a happy feline, can be generated for many reasons, not all of them contentment.
A cat’s first purr happens when they are tiny and blind. The sound is believed to help their mother locate them. Mama’s purr is believed to encourage bonding and a feeling of security.
Purring and kneading (moving paws back and forth) also happens first with little kitty nursing. This behavior can continue into adulthood. Theories vary regarding the meaning of kneading in the grown feline. Some feel it’s leftover blissful kitten behavior. Some adult cats even suckle as they purr and knead. Other researchers feel that kneading is an instinctual act for settling down to rest. Some believe that cats knead in order to claim an area, much like when a dog pees (did you know that cats have scent glands in their paws?). No matter, cat purring plus kneading most often indicates a very happy feline.
As most of us believe, the purr is certainly an audible indicator of a cat in their very most happy place. Rolled over relaxed or curled up on their human’s lap, the purr becomes the music of a kitty in heaven, and many times their companion finds contentment as well. Just the act of stroking a cat can lower blood pressure!
Some cats create an interesting (sometimes irritating) mixture of a purr and meow, especially when they’re hungry! A study revealed that cats have a specialized purr known as a “soliciting” purr that creates frequencies similar to those of a crying human baby. This sound works well to get their humans to feed them! Don’t underestimate the mind control your cat can exert over you, even if you don’t think you speak “cat”.
What makes a purr a purr?
Cats make many sounds but only one is considered a purr. That distinct sound is produced by vocalizing during both inhalation and exhalation. Other sounds like “meow” are limited to exhalation, like human vocalization. The sound happens secondary to an interaction of the windpipe (where the vocal cords are found) and the diaphragm (that moves up and down with each breath).
According to Scientific American, the purr has a distinct vibrational frequency of between 25 and 150 Hz. These frequencies have been proven to promote the healing of bones, muscles, and tendons in mammals. Therefore,
The low frequency of a cat purring can:
- Relieve stress
- Help repair bone and tissue
- Ease breathing
- Lessen pain and swelling
Might that be why cats are rumored to have 9 lives???
Many cats also purr when they find themselves in a strange environment like a veterinary office. The vibrations appear to calm our feline friends. So next time you take your cat to the doctor and they purr like a freight train, you’ll know that their sounds are less about affection and much more directed toward stress relief. And the purr will certainly help relieve your stress too!
Roar vs. Purr!
Fun fact – domesticated cats purr, big cats ROAR! Lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars have a flexible bone in their throat called the hyoid which allows for the mighty sound! However, cheetahs and bobcats, along with domestic cats, have a hard hyoid bone which helps to produce the more mellow purr.
To learn much more about Roar vs. Purr, click here.
By the way, cats aren’t the only animals that purr. For example, raccoons purr too, although it might not be beneficial to your health to cuddle up to a raccoon to find out!