Why do cats (really) purr?

why do cats purr

 

Honestly, who cares why cats purr?? Isn’t it simply awesome that they do it?

—is a thought that I have never had, because growing up I was one of those kids you wanted to punch. If you didn’t reason with me at a metaphysical/molecular level (or at least pretend to to shut me up), then no explanation was good enough.

Why do dogs wag their tails and why are humans terrified of awkward silences? So many questions, so little time. But for today, we’re breaking down the science behind one of our purr-balls’ most endearing behaviors.

So what does it mean when a cat purrs?

 

 

It's a Pippin-centric post today. He's the purr-er of the family.

It’s a Pippin-centric post today. He’s the purr-er of the family.

The Good

The happy purr. We’ve (hopefully) all seen it. Your loaf is stretched out in the sun, eyes blinking slowly, downy underbelly exposed, blithely buzzing away. He’s calm, relaxed, and happy. The purring seems to further bolster his contented mood. But why? To really get to the reason behind his purring, we gotta go back.. wayyy back. (More on that later)

 

 

 

It'll all be over soon, peanut.

It’ll all be over soon, peanut.

The Bad

If you’ve ever taken your cat to the vet, you might have noticed that some cats purr even when they’re anything but calm, relaxed, and happy. I took Pippin to the vet once and he purred through the entire encounter, all while keeping his head resolutely buried in the crook of my arm.

It appears that in these instances, cats purr as a form of self-soothing. But what is it exactly about purring that’s so soothing?

 

 

The Lowdown

Cats purr by regulating airflow through their diaphragm and pulsing their laryngeal muscles in a “sputtering” manner, kind of like when you blow a raspberry (into their flurfy little bellies, before taking a talon to the eyeball).

 

beaker iconThese vibrations happen at a frequency of between 25-150 hertz (on average) which is squarely within the range of vibrating frequencies that promotes tissue healing and bone regeneration.

Let me repeat: the rate at which your cat purrs actually allows them to more quickly recover from injuries on top of reducing pain and swelling.

 

WHATTT?? *looks at cat with fear and awe*

In fact, vets think that this is actually one of the reasons why cats are able to survive disastrous falls from high places, and have fewer complications after surgeries than dogs. Bad. Ass.

 

With such a powerfully therapeutic mechanism at their disposal, it’s not hard to see how cat ancestors more genetically predisposed to purr would outlive their non-purring, pussy (figuratively) compatriots. Thousands of years later, nearly every cat species can purr. And purr they do. Darwinism, hell yea.

From there, it becomes apparent why some cats will purr at every opportunity; it doesn’t sap an enormous amount of their energy, and probably feels like an awesome little massage for their insides. Did I mention it is continuously healing them? Talk about holistic medicine.

 

The cat smile

Cats also utilize purring as a form of communication, much like humans smiling, or babies cooing. Friendly cats, or mothers and kittens, will often lay next to each other purring in a calming feedback loop of reassurance and positive affirmation.

That’s why a lot of cats will purr when you touch them or scratch their lil ears—they’re communicating pleasure and contentment (as well as compounding that pleasure by purring). Look out for tail wiggles, too. Kitty tail wiggles (not to be confused with wagging) are the ultimate sign of cat happiness.

giphy

Purring: way more magical (and badass) than we originally thought.

 

Bonus cute tidbit: Ever been laid up sick in bed, only to have your cats crawl up to you and nuzzle by your side (or lie directly on top of your chest), steadily purring away? That’s their way of transmitting their reassurance and—you guessed it—healing. Now go give them a big ole slow blink and a treat.

Shush dad, let me heal you.

Hold still pops, I’m healing you.

 

 

 

Have a burning cat question you’d like to see answered? Leave me a comment below!

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