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Why do cats purr?

Monday, October 31, 2016

Have you ever wondered why cats make that wonderful rattling sound that we love so much? Or how the noise is actually created? Apparently, cats use purring for a range of reasons, including getting us to do things for them.

Purring is a sign of emotion

It’s well known that purring is often a sign of contentment. If your cat is curled up on your lap enjoying a well-deserved cuddle or stroke, we can be quite confident that they’re in their ‘happy place’.

However, sometimes purring is used for other emotional responses. For instance, they could be in pain or nervous (e.g. travelling in the car or during a consultation at the vets).

Using purring to their advantage

The University of Sussex conducted a study which found that cats also have a specialised purr known as a ‘soliciting purr’. This purr combines high pitched meows with the purring noise, and is produced at similar frequencies to that of a human baby cry. So those clever kitties have sussed that by making this sound, humans are more likely to respond to them – which is usually around dinner time!

How do cats purr?

The purring noise is created by the vibration of the muscles of a cat’s voice box (known as the larynx) and the movement of their diaphragm. As the cat breathes, the air then touches the rapidly moving muscles, creating the rattling purr sound. Incredibly, the muscles move at around 20-30 times per second when purring.

This doesn’t apply to all of the cat species though. The general rule is; if a cat can roar then they won’t be able to purr, as the anatomy of their larynx is slightly different. So that’s why some large cats such as Cheetahs or Bobcats can purr but Lions can’t.

How a cat purring helps us

Understandably, when a cat is purring out of contentment, it can make us feel much more relaxed. It has even been known to lower blood pressure and stress.


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