It’s easy to assume that cats purr because they are happy. After all, when your kitty curls up in your lap from a few well-deserved nicks and scrapes, she’s obviously a happy feline.
However, cats also purr when they are scared or feel threatened , such as during a visit to the vet.
Veterinarian Kelly Morgan likens this reaction to a smile. “People smile when they are nervous, when they want something and when they are happy, so perhaps purring can also be a calming gesture,” Morgan told WebMD.
The purr of a cat begins in its brain. A repetitive neural oscillator sends messages to the muscles of the larynx, causing them to contract at a rate of 25 to 150 vibrations per second. This causes the vocal cords to separate when the cat inhales and exhales, producing a purr.
But not all cats can purr. Domestic cats , some wild ones and their relatives (civets, genets and mongooses) purr, and even hyenas, raccoons and guinea pigs can purr. However, purring cats cannot roar, and roaring cats cannot purr because the structures surrounding the larynx of roaring cats are not rigid enough to allow purring.
How do cats purr?
This had been a mystery for many years. One theory that used to do the rounds was that the purr was created by the turbulence of blood flow in the chest. The theory that experts now believe to be most credible is that it is created by the laryngeal and diaphragmatic muscles in combination with a neural oscillator. A message from a neural oscillator in the brain is sent to the laryngeal muscles, causing them to vibrate. Its movement controls the amount of air that passes through.
Purring occurs during inhalation and exhalation. In some cases, the purr is so low and low that you can feel it more than hear it. However, some cats have very loud purrs.
The most surprising thing is that cats do not have any special apparatus in their body that allows them to purr. Purring involves rapid movement of the muscles of the larynx (voice box), combined with movement of the diaphragm (the muscle at the base of the chest cavity). The muscles move about 20 to 30 times per second.
When the cat breathes, the air touches the vibrating muscles, producing a purr. The purr of each cat is unique, with a high tone and others with a thud. Some purrs are so weak that you must be extremely close to your cat to hear them, while others are extraordinarily loud.
Reasons why cats purr
- Your cat is relaxed: itmay be on its back, with its eyes half closed and its tail even longer. If he’s purring, it’s safe to assume he’s in his happy place. That noise is a big smile.
- He’s hungry or wants something:Some cats purr when it’s time to eat British researchers studied the sounds domestic cats make when they are hungry and when food is not on their minds. Purrs don’t sound the same.
When cats purr to eat, they combine their normal purr with a nasty cry or meow , a bit like the cry of a human baby. Experts believe that we are more likely to respond to this sound. They have found that people can tell the difference between purrs, even if they are not cat owners.
- Kitten-Mother Connection: Kittens can purr when they are only a few days old. It’s probably a way for their mothers to know where they are or that they are okay. Purring also helps a kitten bond with its mother.
- Relief and Healing: Although purring requires energy, many cats purr when injured or in pain. So what makes the effort worth it? It may just be a way for a cat to calm down, like a child sucking on its thumb to feel better.
But some research suggests that purring actually helps cats get better faster. The low frequency of purring triggers a series of related vibrations within your body that can:
- Heal bones and wounds.
- Build muscle and repair tendons
- Ease of breathing
- Decreases pain and swelling.
This could explain why cats can survive falls from high places and tend to have fewer complications after surgery than dogs.
What do cats purr for?
The purr communicates several different emotional states. One of the reasons humans are most familiar with is that a purring cat is content and happy, but in reality, cats purr for a variety of reasons, and not all of them mean satisfaction.
The purr of the cat has been compared to the human smile . People smile for a variety of reasons. People smile when they are happy, nervous, insecure, or trying to make someone else feel comfortable. It is also like that with the purr. Cats can purr when they are happy, but they also use it to calm down. Cats may purr in an attempt to calm a potential opponent when they know there is no way to escape. They can purr when they are nervous , sick, in pain, or even near death . This makes sense due to the release of endorphins.
Many cats really know how to maximize purr to their advantage. A study at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom identified that cats have developed a specialized purr called a ‘soliciting purr’. The specialized purr includes cries at frequencies similar to those of a human baby. Cats appear to be able to increase the frequency so that members of their human family can feed them. Pretty smart, don’t you agree?
It is also believed that the cat uses purring to heal. The purrs vibrate at 25-150HZ, which is also the frequency that helps in physical healing and bone repair. It may also be that purring during rest is a form of physical therapy to keep the cat’s bones strong, as the 25-150HZ frequency range increases bone density. So even when a cat is napping or resting, he can keep his bones strong and healthy and ready for the next opportunity to attack prey.
The combination of purr and meow
Cats have a special kind of purr that they use when they want our attention, especially when they want to be fed. This purr is known as a “request purr” and involves a combination of purr and meow. Cat owners respond to this sound in a similar way to how parents respond to their baby’s cry.
This is a wonderful example of how our domesticated feline friends have evolved to live and be raised by us.
Benefits of purring cats in humans
Purring is not only good for cats, but it is also healthy for cat owners. Studies show that cats do a better job of relieving stress and lowering blood pressure than other pets.
In fact, a 10-year study found that cat owners were 40 percent less likely to have heart attacks than non-cat owners , and purring could play a role in that.
“Purring is an auditory stimulus that people attribute to calm and calm, ” Dr. Rebecca Johnson, director of the Research Center for Interaction with Human Animals , told WebMD. “That gives us a positive reinforcement of what we are doing and can contribute to the whole relaxation effect when we interact with our cats.”
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