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Why Do Cats Purr?

5 min read

Curling up with your cat as she purrs is a comfort to all pet owners. It’s a sign she’s happy, content and feeling settled on your lap, enjoying lots of fuss and attention – or is it? 

We all know that cats purr to express their feelings. But cat purring doesn’t always mean happy cats and there’s lots of mystery around why cats purr and how they make this mystical sound. 

Previous scientific research has shown that cats purr when they’re distressed or afraid as well. Cat purring is a defense mechanism and a way to keep calm in stressful situations. You’ll often hear your cat purring at the vets.  Don’t mistake this as a happy sound! The cat purring is more likely to calm herself down rather than enjoying the examination. 

Cat purring, believe it or not, is also used to self-soothe and manage pain. The mother cat purrs during labour to relieve discomfort and will continue to purr after her kittens are born to lead them to her body for nursing. Since kittens are born blind and deaf, the vibrations from their mother are crucial to their survival and at just two days old, they can start communicating with their mum and littermates by purring back. 

How do cats purr?

So we know why cats purr, but how do they make such a fascinating sound? 

Research shows that muscles in your cat produce a sound that is responsible for moving the vocal cords - and as your cat breathes in and out, air hits the vibrating muscles. This is what makes the cat purring sound and as signals in your cat’s brain create the whole purring movement, scientists think the purr is more of a muscular twitch rather than a vocal communication. 


How does cat purring help humans? 

It’s a known fact that owning cats relieve stress because of the positive effects their purrs have on us. 

Cat owners have 40% less risk of a heart attack than non-cat owners and lower blood pressure after interacting with cats and hearing their soft purrs. Most interestingly however, is what’s known as ‘healing by association.’ This is the ability to calm, soothe and sympathetically heal illnesses in people just by being nearby, and many people have said they can ease their migraines just by lying down with their purring cat next to them. 

Did you know? 

The low frequency of a cat purring causes a series of vibrations inside their body that can ease breathing, heal bones and injuries, build muscle and repair tendons whilst acting as a form of pain relief. 

A cat’s purr vibrates at 25-150 HZ, which is the same frequency that assists in physical healing with the same benefits that increase bone density. This is probably why your cat can jump from a tree and not feel a thing when it lands. 

Cats that purr can’t roar, and cats that roar can’t purr! This is because of the small bone found inside the vocal cords, which in roaring cats, is a flexible bone. This softer bone allows big cats to make a deep, roaring sound but in domestic cats, this bone is completely hardened and only allows air vibrations while exhaling and inhaling. 

The power of purrsuasion!

Have you ever heard your cat purring louder and more desperately when she’s hungry? Researchers have recently identified a new kind of cat purring called the ‘solicitation purr,’ which alters the cat purring into a more urgent ‘cry-like’ sound, similar in frequency to that of a crying baby, which makes us instinctively want to help! 

A cat purring can be happy, stressed, hungry or content but by looking at their behaviour and sensing their mood, you’ll be able to work out what they might be trying to communicate to you.