Why Do Cats Purr?
The purrfect purr
Of all the cats I have known in my life, each had its very own specific way to purr. Where one rumbles like a little train, another purrs so softly that you would not know she was doing it unless you were in contact with her at the time.
Often the purr is a response to affection but not always. My eldest cat, Lili purrs at the vet when she is surely not feeling at her most relaxed and happy.
So, what is it all about? Why do cats purr?
Cats Purr When They Are Happy
Yes, they do. All cat people know the pleasure of having a beloved moggy curled up on their lap purring away in contentment. But that is not the full story.
They Purr When They Are Nervous
Veterinarian Kelley Morgan likens this anxious purr to a nervous smile. This makes a lot of sense to me. As a child, I had my own nervous tics which included smiling inappropriately when getting a telling off by a teacher. You may notice this reaction in your cat when you take him to the vet.
They Purr for Pain Relief in Labor
When a cat is going into labor, she may start to purr and breathe heavily. Endorphins are being released and this helps her through the pain and stress of birthing her babies.
… and to communicate and bond with her newborn babies.
After her babies are born, her purring is a way to communicate. For the first couple of days after birth, the kittens are blind and deaf but they can feel her warmth and purring vibrations. By the time they are two days old, the kittens can purr too.
They cannot suckle and mew but they can suckle and purr so the resonant connection with mom and littermates is a bonding and comforting sensation.
There is a safety factor in this vibrational contact too. There is a danger of a litter of mewing kittens being found by a predator. This is much less likely if the little family are all snuggled up contentedly purring together.
Cats Purr to Build Bone and Heal
“Put a purring cat and a bunch of broken bones in a box and the bones will heal”
That is an old veterinarian adage and fascinatingly, it turns out to have a hint of truth in it. The frequency of a cat purr, between 25 and 140 hertz, is found to be beneficial in building bone density.
The healing and health benefits of a good old purr do not end there. An article in Scientific American comments that as cats have evolved to conserve energy via long periods of rest, purring may be “…a low energy mechanism that stimulates muscles and bones without a lot of energy.”
So while the rest of us have to build our bone and muscle mass by dragging ourselves down to the gym or you know, getting off the sofa, a cat is already getting his daily workout by staying on the sofa and purring.
What is even cooler is that the healing benefit of a purr of a cat extends to their humans.
Thought subsides when you pet your dog or you have a purring cat on your chest. Even just watching an animal can take you out of your mind. It is more deeply connected with the source of life than most humans, and that rootedness in Being transmits itself to you. Millions of people who otherwise would be completely lost in the conceptual reality of their mind are kept sane by living with an animal.
The lovely quote above from Eckhart Tolle’s, Findhorn Retreat: Stillness Amidst the World, perfectly describes the calming effect that pets can have on their people. Many studies have been published over the last twenty years to confirm Tolle’s words that the ownership of a companion animal has both physical and psychological health but there is anecdotal evidence that a cat’s purr has medical benefits for humans too.
– eases breathing ( unless allergic to cats)
– eases migraines
– lowers blood pressure
– improves joint and bone health