If you’re the kind of person who lies awake at night wondering why exactly a cat purrs, then you’ve come to the purr-fect place. For the most part, cats purr because they are content. Imagine your cat laying sprawled on their back in the garden while they blissfully soak up some rays of sunshine. You’ll usually hear a gentle rumbling purr as they breathe in and out, and you might even be able to see them quiver ever so slightly.
So what exactly is going on when your cat purrs? An oscillator in the brain sends messages to muscles located in a cat’s throat causing them to twitch at a rate of 25 to 150 vibrations per second. That’s a lot of twitches. A purr is actually the sound of a cat’s vocal cords being separated by these vibrations while the kitty inhales and exhales. This explains that gentle rumble and quiver that you can hear and see while your cat contentedly sun bathes.
However, that doesn’t mean that a purr is always a sign of feline happiness. Cats also purr when they feel lonely, threatened, frightened or hungry. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your cat purrs more when he or she has a visit to the vet or after someone accidentally steps on their tail.
Tony Buffington, a cat expert and veterinarian, compares cats purring to humans laughing and says, “It’s naive to think that cats can only purr for one reason- it’s like thinking that people can only laugh for one reason.” This makes perfect sense when we think about the different kinds of laughs, guffaws and giggles that we have as humans. We might laugh because we feel happy or because we find something funny or perhaps even because someone makes us feel nervous.
The frequency of your cat’s purr is 26 Hertz, which is the exact frequency that scientists use in vibrational therapies to promote tissue regeneration. Purring actually releases endorphins into your cat’s brain so our feline friends often use the paws-itive vibrations as a form of self-soothing. So your cat may be purring to express their enjoyment at getting some affectionate scratches from their human friend, or they may be using it to heal themselves. Mother cats tend to purr excessively while giving birth, as they use it as a natural pain reliever. We think that’s paw-sitively impressive!
After a baby kitten is born, he or she has the ability to purr from around two days old. Kittens are born blind and deaf, so purring is essential to their survival. The mother and baby communicate with each other using the vibrations, helping the kitten to feed from its mother and maintain warmth.
But not every cat can purr
Domestic cats and some wild cats can purr. Even hyenas, raccoons and guinea pigs can purr. However those cats that can roar cannot purr, and vice versa. Larger cats, like lions, evolved in such a way that their purr was replaced with a roar to help them protect their territories.
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