Cats are exquisite examples of evolutionary design. They have developed in such a way that many of their traits, including their behaviors, serve several purposes, improving their chances of surviving. Cats scratch to demarcate territory, express conflicting emotions, and preserve the health of their nails. Cats use their whiskers to feel the wind’s direction, communicate their moods, and navigate. What about cat purring, though? What does a cat purr indicate and why do cats purr? Let’s investigate.
How do cats purr?
Before we respond to the question “Why do cats purr?” let’s discuss how cats purr. There are several hypotheses on cat purring. The hypothesis with the most support claims that a neural oscillator in addition to the laryngeal and diaphragmatic muscles work together to produce cat purrs. This argument seems reasonable given that cats with laryngeal paralysis are unable to purr. A second hypothesis holds that cat purrs are caused by the little hyoid bone. Between the skull and the larynx is where the hyoid bone is situated. According to a different idea, the central nervous system is where purring starts.
1. Why do cats purr?
For newborn kittens to survive, they must purr. The gentle vibrations of their mother’s purr beckon the infants into the world. Although they are born blind and deaf, they can feel vibrations. These delightful vibrations serve as the ideal homing signals for newborns, directing them to the nurturing warmth of their mothers’ bodies and their first meals.
Kittens begin using purrs as a kind of communication with their mother and siblings. When they are two days old, they begin to purr. Because they are unable to meow while nursing, kittens express their happiness by purring. Mom responds with comfort and security.
There is another way primal purring ups the odds for survival. Cat purring helps keep neonates safe from predators. Hungry predators are more likely to detect cries and other vocalizations than the vibrations of purrs.
Cat moms purr when they give birth. In addition to benefitting kittens, purring helps the mothers in a number of ways. The new moms are vulnerable and cannot defend themselves when they are giving birth. Painful cries attract danger. Instead of crying, they purr. Purring releases endorphins, reducing pain while simultaneously reassuring the newborns without luring unwanted visitors.
a. Want attention
Another answer to, “Why do cats purr?” Cat parents are familiar with the relaxing purrs of cats as they cuddle and stroke them. These little purr machines exude contentment, with the added benefit of uplifting the moods of the people who adore them while lowering their blood pressure.
Many kitties quickly figure out another basic benefit of purring — soliciting food and attention from their favorite people. Since most cat-parents lavish attention on their cats when they purr, cats often purr when they want affection and treats.
b. In stressed, pain or sick
Not all answers to, “Why do cats purr?” are as positive or obvious. Cats purr when they are stressed, in pain or severely ill. Often, cats at the end of life will purr. Cats enter life and leave life on a purr.
What makes a purr a purr has tickled the curiosity of the scientific community for years. Studies find that purrs oscillate at a low frequency of 25 to 100 HZ. These frequencies promote bone healing and ease muscle pain. Clinical trials of people receiving ultrasound treatments have proven that low-frequency/intensity ultrasound accelerates healing in fractures. Purrs reassure and soothe, they promote healing and reduce pain.
There are also reports that cats heal faster than other animals that do not purr, and that purring releases endorphins. Endorphins reduce pain while healing takes place. Purring is the feline equivalent of expensive ultrasound treatments, without medical bills.
c. To get some light exercise
Another surprising answer to the question, “Why do cats purr?” Cat purring is actually a form of kitty exercise!
It is hard to imagine that relaxed, purring cats are in the midst of low-intensity exercise sessions. Felines are experts at conserving their energy through naps and lounging. According to Dr. Leslie Lyons, world-renowned genetics researcher and professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, the vibrations from purring may stimulate muscles and bones without the cat extending a lot of energy and effort.
Something for you to think about the next time you cuddle with your little purr-machine. Looks are deceiving — in reality, she might be heavily engaged in calisthenics.