We often associate the sound of a cat purring with content. When you think about a cat purring, you are probably imagining it curled up somewhere comfy and cosy and being stroked by their favourite human. But did you know that cats purr for a multitude of reasons including being hungry and even frightened?
Cats purr using muscles that vibrate their vocal chords. When they breathe, air hits these muscles and makes a purring sound. Purring occurs in other feline species too, such as cheetahs and ocelots. Interestingly, there are several other non-feline animals that purr too, including bears, gorillas and hyenas. A special bone in the vocal chords means that bigger cats, like lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars can only roar and not purr.
Purring is a form of communication that cats use to tell those nearest to them how they are feeling. You have to get quite close to a cat in order to hear them purring due to the fact that it’s such a low frequency and low-volume sound. Although purring can signal happiness in a cat, they will also purr in other situations.
You may notice that your cat will purr when she is hungry. This type of purring is said to be omitted at a slightly different frequency that aligns it more closely with the sound of a baby crying in order to get our attention more effectively. Researchers call this purr the ‘solicitation purr’. New mothers also purr so that their kittens, which are born blind and deaf, can use the vibrations to find their way back to her.
Cats have been known to purr when in stressful situations too. For example, purring at the vets might be a way to help your cat to self-soothe, much in the same way that a child would suck their thumb.
It’s no secret that stroking a purring can be a very relaxing experience (for both parties!) and there may be a real reason for this. Incredibly, scientists have found that the low vibrations caused by purring can actually help to heal their broken bones, repair muscles and even work as a kind of in-built pain relief. It’s reported that cat owners are 40% less likely to have a heart attack. Interaction with cats has also shown to lower blood pressure and some people even report improvements in their migraines after lying next to a purring cat.
So what better excuse could you have for sitting on the sofa cuddling your favourite feline friend for another five minutes