Why do cats purr? How do they purr?

This is one of the oldest mysteries known to cat lovers.  Let’s start with some facts we do know and work our way to the mysteries of the purr.

  • Fact: kittens purr at just a few days old.
    • Speculation: perhaps this is to let the mother cat (queen) know that the kitten is present and ok. Perhaps it is for bonding the kitten to the queen.
  • Fact: adult cats purr too.
    • Speculation: cats seems to purr when content such as when their owners rub them in their favorite spot.  However, cats have been known to purr when they are less than happy.   We have quite a few cats that purr right through receiving vaccinations or a painful injury.  So why do cats purr?  Perhaps it is a calming mechanism – used to comfort kittens, bond with a mother, or try to calm down in a stressful situation.  What do you think? When does your cat purr?
  • Fact: cats with a disease called laryngeal paralysis cannot purr.
    • Speculation: This fact gives us an important clue for how cats actually make the purring sound.  It is currently believed that the sound originates by some mechanism of laryngeal muscles.   Other scientists believe that the purring noise comes from alternating vibration of the diaphragm and larynx.  A “neural oscillator” in the cat’s brain may signal the purring noise.
  • Fact: cats can purr both while inhaling and exhaling.
    • Speculation: this fact makes purring somewhat unique.  Meowing and other vocalizations are usually on the inhale.
  • Have you ever noticed a cat’s purring making you feel more calm?
    • Interestingly, there are some studies that show noises in the 24-140 hertz range (like a purr at 25-150 hertz) can promote healing, pain relief, and bone growth. So if you are not feeling well, some purr-therapy maybe help you feel better.  Of course we recommend following your medical doctor’s advice with regards to your own health!

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