Cats are magnificent creatures that are not always understood. Their level of independence leads some people to think they are not good pets or that they don’t like people. In fact, cats have unique characteristics that humans do not always comprehend. If you have a cat or if you live near cats you have probably seen some behaviours you don’t understand (but you wish to understand). Purring is likely to be one of them. Have you wondered why and how do cats purr? What do they mean when they do it? Is it part of their peculiar language? And how does it happen? What are the physical processes that go on while they make that sound?
So Why do cats purr?
To purr is a habit cats have since they are only a few days old. It consists on a soft sound that cats do while they are inhaling and exhaling, for example, when we pet them. It’s a low frequency vocalization that most of the cats do and most of us consider that the purr happens when the cat wants to show happiness.
In fact, purring can be linked to a state of happiness and wellbeing, but it also might happen when the cat is in pain or got hurt. Like human beings, who often cry when they are happy and when they are sad, cats can purr in those different situations too. It is also possible that cats purr for no reason.
According to Scientific American magazine, the scientific community has been said that the purr sound frequencies contribute to a better bone density and help the body healing. So, it seems that purring can be a cat’s natural strategy to get better from a disease and not only a demonstration of an joyful emotional state, like most people use to think.
It is also believed that little kittens purr to let their mothers know where they are and that they’re good, like if they were trying to tranquilize them. So, cats can purr since they are kittens, and in this particular situation, they use it to communicate to their moms and reinforce their bonds. Animals (not only cats) frequently use vocalisation to communicate and to find out where their companions are.
Like we have seen, a cat can purr for many different reasons. We can’t be sure why they do it in each situation. If you use to hear your cat purr, it would be good if you could pay some attention to try to understand the reason why it is happening. Obviously, you don’t have to worry if the cat uses to purr to show happiness or he is just asking for food. But if the purring is a demonstration of something else, like a disease or pain, you must take your cat to the Veterinarian as soon as possible to find out what is going on.
We have seen that cats can also use the purr to help themselves when they are hurt or feeling sick because its vibrations act in their bodies bringing relief to some diseases. In fact, it has been shown by scientists that cats have less health problems related to bones than other animals. The purr could help the cats improving their quality of life, according to this.
Only the Veterinarian is able to find out if something is bothering your furry friend. So, if you doubt about the reason why your cat is purring, it is a good idea to visit the Veterinarian. If the Veterinarian consider it necessary, your cat may be subject to some exams to determine if it is everything alright.
How does it happen?
The purr is different from the meow (which is a vocalization that only occurs on exhalation – when cat expels air). In fact, the purr is a sound which is made on both inhalation and exhalation of air. Scientists say that what distinguishes the “meow” from the “purr” may be the cat’s laryngeal muscles, which are related to the opening of the glottis. The glottis are the vocal folds and spaces between them. But there is not a definitive answer.
The physical source of this curious phenomenon is still subject of different theories from scientists who have been studying this behaviour. Some specialists argue that the purr may be generated by the hyoid bone (a small flexible bone located in the cat’s neck). According to this, when air is pushed through the cat’s voice box, the bone vibrates and we can hear the purr sound. According to some other specialists, the purr seems to start on the larynx muscles. It has been shown that cats who have laryngeal paralysis, a condition that affects the laryngeal muscles, can’t purr.
Specialists in this matter claim that the sound of purr comes from the contractions of the muscles and vocal chords. The respiration movements (inhaling and exhaling) allow the passage of air, that reaches the larynx muscles and make the purr sound.
Scientists argue that cats don’t control the way that the purr happens. They only may choose if they want to purr or not (they are aware that they are purring but they don’t control the mechanisms that lead to it). Each cat has its own pattern of purr.
It seems that purring is a tool that cats use for many reasons: to show their joy, to ask for food, to promote healing when they are sick or while they feel anxiety or fear, among other possible reasons. Above all these considerations, it is extremely important that you know your cat very well in order to understand your pet’s needs and feelings. By doing that, you will be able to help him when it’s needed and you will certainly congratulate yourself for making him happy.