Why Do Cats Purr?


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Because I am an only child, my mother has to find things to entertain herself now that I'm at school. One of her favorite pastimes is sending me pictures of my cat, Twix, in various adorable situations. Unlike our nasty cat, Heather, my sweet kitten is very loving and snuggly. Though she never learned how to meow, she makes up for it with her powerful purr (and occasional snoring). After receiving three pictures of Twix today, I got to thinking: why do cats purr?

According to an article by Leslie A. Lyons in Scientific American, cats purr for several reasons. Most people associate purring with a cat's happiness (when nursing young or when being pet or groomed). However, they also purr when they are upset or uncomfortable. While I can't say that I've ever seen my cats purring when they are upset, it is an interesting phenomenon. Thus, scientists at the University of California decided to look into how cats purr.

The article explains: "Scientists have demonstrated that cats produce the purr through intermittent signaling of the laryngeal and diaphragmatic muscles. Cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz. Various investigators have shown that sound frequencies in this range can improve bone density and promote healing." Well, there you go. That is how they purr. However, why is still interesting to me.

I can see how purring in a time of duress or injury would help heal and stimulate muscles. The article suggests that possibly this purring could help humans recover from injury as well. Perhaps that is why having a pet can often help people recover from disease and injury more quickly?

Anyway, I want to know why my cat purrs so much when she is happy! Another article from "cat-behavior-explained.com" gives three primary reasons why cats happily purr. First, cats purr when they are nursing their kittens to comfort them. When kittens are born, their senses of hearing, sight, and smell are not well developed. The vibrations of the mother kitten serves as a guiding light and a comfort for the kittens. Secondly, cats purr to comfort themselves! In times of stress or anxiety, domesticated cats will purr to comfort themselves because purring is usually associated with positive experiences. Finally, cats purr to comfort their humans. I know from personal experience that my cat knows when I'm upset, tired, or stressed. She always comes up for a special snuggle when she senses my discontent and it seems that is when she purrs her loudest. She uses what she knows as comforting to comfort me! I know that her purring has lulled me to sleep more times than I can count.

In all, the primary functions of a cat's purr are comfort and healing. Personally, I like to know that Twix is actually happy when she purrs. And for all those dog people out there, cats may have healing powers-- so there!

Sources: Article 1  Article 2

Video: Loudest Cat Purr in the World

5 Comments

That's really interesting- I knew that cats purred when they were happy, but not when they were distressed or unhappy. It makes sense, though, that they would purr as a comfort tool for themselves or others. I don't know if the purring itself would cause healing in sick humans- I think it'd be more of the emotional connection and the positivity that pets can bring that would help a healing process, and purring would just be a way to demonstrate attachment from the pet. Correlation not causation and all that.

That's really sweet that your cat comforts you when you're upset! I only have a fish, and it just kind of swims in circles and stares at me...

My cat has a really loud purr too and I always wondered why he does it. The interesting thing is when he was younger it was twice as loud as it is now. With age, his purr started to become softer and didn't happen as much. I feel as though purring for a cat is definitely a self soothing mechanism and whenever a cat is feeling good whether it's being petted or fed as it's one way of saying "oh yeahhhh".

I sleep with my cat every night when I'm at home and she always purrs once she jumps on the bed. I definitely do agree with the comfort aspect of it. Mamushka, my cat, comes into my room roughly the same time and greets me with her loud, obnoxious purr every time. It has become a part of her daily routine and something that obviously soothes her and also me. Very interesting blog!

I really liked your blog! I am such a cat lover and that video was amazing! I am such a sucker for cats and just got done going on youtube for the last 20 minutes looking at cat videos! Then I finally got back to business and found this really great site with all kinds of cat facts!! I am now resisting the urge to sneak a cat into my apartment...

I'm also a cat lover, my roommates and I are in the process of adopting a kitten actually! But I found your article and research really intriguing. After having countless pets, I didn't know that cats purred for any other reason than happiness. It's interesting that they learned to comfort themselves or their kittens through making noise. I had an outdoor cat back home who would get so excited when you'd pet her or just pay attention that she would uncontrollably drool and purr when you'd pet her haha!

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