From chattering to chirping to yowling to meowing, cats are vocal creatures. One of the most common and misunderstood vocalizations from cats is their purring. Pet parents will undoubtedly be familiar with their feline fur-babies purring away, whether they're curled up on your lap or waiting for a tasty treat. But why exactly do cats purr? Here's the lowdown.
The Root of the Behavior
How does a cat purr?
As well as asking why a cat purrs, you may also be wondering how a cat purrs. This soothing sound is unlike any sound humans make, so what's going on in a cat's anatomy that causes this?
Cats purr by using a mixture of their larynx, diaphragm, and a neural oscillator in their brain while breathing in and out to generate a constant purr. It is currently thought that purrs occur when air moves through a cat's glottis (the area surrounding the vocal cords). While scientists agree on what parts of a cat's body create purring sounds, they're still unsure of the exact science of how cats purr.
What does purring mean?
The scientific community is not entirely sure why a cat purrs; however, purrs are generally considered a sign of contentment. A cat learns to purr a couple of days after they're born to indicate to their mother they're okay and create a deeper bond. As a cat grows, they continue to purr in adulthood, likely to develop a deeper bond with their pet parents and other animals, as well as to show they're happy.
However, studies show cats don't just purr as a sign of happiness. Cats are also known to purr when injured or unhappy, possibly as a way to soothe themselves. It's also thought a cat's purr has healing qualities. Your average house cat purrs between 25 and 100 hertz, which is shown to improve tissue and bone regeneration by stimulating the bones and muscles — similar to how exercise helps humans recover quicker from injury.
As cats spend most of their time lounging around or lying in wait hunting, purring may help keep their muscles and bones healthy during inactivity. This improved healing rate may explain why cats recover well from high falls and why cats tend to have fewer complications after surgery than their canine counterparts.
Encouraging the Behavior
As mentioned, purring is generally rooted in happiness and contentment, but it may also be a sign of injury or stress. You won’t really have to encourage your cat to purr — it’s a common behavior and form of communication. Letting your cat get comfy on your lap or sofa, giving them lots of pets, and offering them their favorite treat are surefire ways to get your feline purring loudly.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Is a cat's purr beneficial to human health?
You may be wondering, "If a cat can heal itself by purring, will purring also improve my health?" While a cat's purr is unlikely to help cure any serious ailments, there is reason to believe it can improve your overall health. Humans respond well psychologically to purring as it's considered highly soothing. Studies reveal cat parents have lower blood pressure and are 33% less likely to have a heart attack or a stroke on average. That being said, this improvement isn't directly linked to purring and is more related to pet parenthood in general.
Your cat's purring may help promote muscle and bone growth as well. Frequencies between 25 and 50 hertz improve bone growth in humans, while frequencies around 100 hertz improve tissue growth. As a result, the vibrations from a cat's purring may help you heal quicker from injury.
Most experts agree there are several reasons why cats purr. Trying to explain the exact cause of purring is similar to explaining all the reasons humans cry. Your little lion may be happy, hungry, or hurt, but it'll be difficult to tell by their purrs, as purring is among the most common forms of cat communication. If you're concerned about your cat's purr, watch out for other cues such as their eating habits and body language to decipher if your cat is hurt or just happy to be around you.