Why Do Cats Purr? Here’s What It Means

The various meanings and all the benefits of this behavior

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By Alex

Purring is the most classic manifestation of feline language. It is generally thought that when cats make that particular vibrating sound, they are manifesting affection and an emotional state of pleasure and happiness in general. However, purring has multiple meanings. By purring, cats can express multiple moods and needs, which are not always positive. We have explored this issue in depth in this article. So, let’s then find out together why cats purr.

Why do cats purr?

Many people still think that a cat purrs whan it wants to show affection. This is true, but only partially. In fact, there are many reasons why the cat purrs. After all, it is one of its ways of expressing emotions and moods.

Basically, cats purr for:

  • express affection
  • communicate happiness (the purr is a kind of smile)
  • show nervousness, discomfort and restlessness
  • signal that they are hungry
  • calm down and self-reassure, for example, if they feel pain or are injured

Even newborn kittens purr. By doing so, they create a deep bond with their mother. Also, through purring, they let their mom know where they are and reassure her that they are okay.

How cats purr

Purring consists of particular sound  which is a mix between a sound and a vibration. It is not just a specific organ that makes this particular sound. In fact, it comes from the interaction between various parts located inside the oral cavity.

Be that as it may, the mechanism is not clear. Many scientists have asked themselves the question, but no one has yet been able to find an unambiguous, certain and definite answer.

According to the most popular hypothesis, the noise would be emitted by the vocal cords, while the vibration would be the result of a very rapid dilation-shrinkage of the glottis.

For some scholars, the purring sounds would in fact be produced by the muscles of the larynx performing a “game” of dilation-contraction of the glottis. According to others, however, the particular sound would come from the hyoid, a nonextensible bone that joins the tongue to the skull bone. The hyoid is located at the base of the tongue,

Recent studies state that purring is the resonant effect of the vocal cords that occurs at the level of the larynx.

Do cats learn to purr?

Contrary to what you might think, for a cat purring is not natural. In fact, it involves a big anatomical effort. Although even newborn kittens make these sounds, cats must learn to purr. And the older they get, the more they refine the technique.

The sound of purring

As just explained, the purr is a combination of sound and vibration. In any case, careful measurements have shown that the purr is not uniform (as it appears to the human ear) but differs slightly depending on whether the cat is inhaling or exhaling.

In fact, the purr noise in the inhaling phase is louder and shorter, with a frequency of 27-40 Hz, while the purr noise in the exhaling phase, is somewhat less loud and longer, with a frequency between 16 and 28 Hz.

However, these are minor differences that we humans are unable to perceive.

When cats purr

Purring is one way by which cats communicate their moods. But not all cats appreciate this way of communicating. In any case, here are the situations and conditions in which , most often, felines, make the particular sound-vibration. To sum up, cats can purr when:

  • they are hungry
  • they are content and satisfied
  • they feel pleasure
  • they receive attention
  • they are relaxed
  • they are caressed
  • they want to draw attention
  • they are in their kennel
  • they are toileting
  • they are near their mother
  • they are in a state of anxiety or discomfort
  • they are afraid
  • they are in heat cycle
  • they are about to give birth
  • they are nursing puppies
  • they are sick or in pain
  • they are about to die

The benefits of cat purring

Purring also generates well-being from a biological point of view. In fact, this constant and distinctive humming releases serotonin, more commonly known as the “happy hormone,” into the cat’s body. It is in fact a neurotransmitter that plays a positive influence on various nervous system processes: moods, emotions, pain perception, state of consciousness…

Recently, cat purring has also been shown to have a therapeutic function relative to pain caused by injuries, wounds and diseases.

The beneficial effects on humans

Various studies and scientific researches have shown that cat purring has various beneficial effects on humans as well.

With the sound of purring, low frequencies are emitted between 25 and 50 Hertz.

Exposure to these frequencies would induce a state of relaxation by regularizing heartbeats and decreasing blood pressure. These frequencies are also exploited in physiotherapy to decrease painful and inflammatory states of both the musculoskeletal system and tendons. It even appears that they can accelerate healing and the formation of new tissue.

Let’s look more specifically at what beneficial effects cat purring has on humans:

  • soothing and calming effect
  • stress reduction
  • relieving muscle tension
  • regulation of heart rate: cat owners have a 40% lower risk of having a serious heart condition (Source, a University of Minnesota study)
  • acceleration in the healing process of fractures
  • maintenance of blood pressure levels within the normal range
  • acceleration in the wound healing process
  • reduction in the risk of bacterial infections
  • attenuation of sleep disturbances

why cats purr

Why Cats Don’t Purr

As explained from the beginning, purring is a cat’s way of communicating. Each animal has its own personality and, therefore, there are cats that purr more often and others that purr more infrequently. The same is true for meowing. This therefore means that if your cat does not purr, or purrs infrequently, you need not worry.

However, if your cat has always been accustomed to this behavior and, then, at some point, he suddenly stops purring, then it is a sign that, most likely something is wrong. Therefore, it is best to take him to the veterinarian and seek his expert opinion. The same goes for the opposite.

What animals purr besides cats

In the animal world, only cats purr. In fact, this particular behavior is unique to the feline class. Thus, in addition to cats, lynxes, cougars and cheetahs also purr. So do lions, tigers and leopards. Unlike cats, however, big cats cannot prolong the characteristic sound for a long time.

Why the cat is said to “purr”

The term “purr” is simply an onomatopoeic sound. The same happens in many other languages around the world: for example, it’s “Ronronner” in French, “Purren or Schnurren” in German, “Ronronear” in Spanish, and “Goro goro” in Japanese. Lots of r’s, that’s it!

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