Why Do Cats Purr?

February 11, 2020

Much like meowing, purring is a form of communication. Domestic cats aren’t the only felines known to be able to purr – in fact, wild cats and some of their relatives such as the civet and genet are also able to purr. But why do cats purr? It’s long been assumed that cats purr as a result of contentment and a sense of pleasure, but that is not the sole reason behind that low, guttural sound.

Communication of Contentment, Happiness, and Every Other Positive Feeling
Many believe that cats have developed the act of purring in order to communicate to others that they are fine, happy, and that all is well. In fact, it is believed that kittens purr in order to reassure and let their mothers know that they’re fine. Adult cats may very well purr when approaching another cat, and even during playtime with other cats, as a signal that they’re friendly and willing to interact.

Vital for Survival
Did you know? Purring in newborn kittens helps them locate their mothers, a very handy tool when considering the fact that they’re essentially blind and deaf! The vibrations that result due to purring do not require either high vision/auditory development to detect, so kittens and their mothers use purring to communicate. Kittens are able to use their mothers’ purrs to guide themselves over to the protection and comfort of their mothers.

Has Healing and Soothing Properties
If you’re observant enough, you may notice that cats purr when they are in pain, sick, injured, and even when they are close to death. It has been theorized that purring has a healing component to it – studies done on purring that are based on the pitch, frequency, and duration of the phenomenon shows that felines do indeed reap some healing benefits from the act of purring.

A cat’s purr has a frequency range of 25-150 Hertz, which is coincidentally the best frequency to aid and speed up the growth and repair of damaged muscles and bones. In clinical trials that involved humans receiving ultrasound treatments, it has been shown that this range of frequencies accelerates the healing of fractured bones. In addition, compared to other animals that do not have the ability to purr, cats heal faster! Purring releases endorphins, and these endorphins help keep the pain at bay during a healing process. Moreover, because purring stimulates all these muscles and bones, cats may purr in an attempt to engage in a gentler form of exercise.

A purr’s healing properties also extend beyond the physical realm. To humans, purring is most commonly a sign that we are doing something right – purring therefore serves as a form of positive reinforcement, assuring us that whatever we are doing to our beloved cats is right and appreciated. This then contributes to strengthening the bond between feline and human, and keeps both parties happy and relaxed. It’s a win-win situation, really!

Yes, cats purr when they’re happy, but they also purr when afraid. These three explanations will hopefully help you in determining why exactly your cat is purring, and provide you with better means of sorting out whatever potential problem may be at hand.

Image Credit
Photo by A Hindi - CC BY 2.0

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