Last updated: November 23, 2016
When you think of cats, what special things do you think of? Do you think of meowing, their cute little voices? Do you think of kneading, that peculiar type of cat massage that usually takes place at three in the morning when you’re fast asleep? Or do you think of purrrrring, that soothing noise cats make when they’re very happy? Purring is one of those things that is unique to cats, and it’s one of those things that makes us love them so much. But what is purring and why do cats do it? And why do some cats not purr?
The Mechanism of Purring
Purring is a function of the vocal chords, the laryngeal muscles, the diaphragm and the brain. One theory says a neural oscillator sends a signal to the chords and the laryngeal muscles. Another says that blood flowing through a large vein in the cat’s chest causes the noise, made louder by air passing through the windpipe through two folds of membrane behind the vocal chords which are known as the false vocal chords. Believe it or not, nobody knows exactly how cats purr; like many other catty things, behaviors, and noises, it’s very mysterious, and cats are the masters of mystery! I mean, just look into those eyes – what are they thinking??? Most people think it’s because they’re happy, but there are many other reasons why they do it.
Kittens learn how to purr from a very early age, maybe even as early as a couple of days old. Many vets think that purring is a bonding mechanism between Mommy and kitty, and a way of telling her he’s fine. As well as this, kittens are born blind and deaf, but they can feel Mommy’s purring, so Kitty purrs and says: “I’m cool Mom, don’t worry. Where’s my milk?” Mommy will purr back and say, “Come and get it guys – the milk bar’s over here!” And kittens can’t meow and suckle at the same time, but they can purr and nurse all at once, since purring occurs while inhaling or exhaling.
Purring also de-stresses the cat. It releases endorphins which make the cat feel better and calms him down. Of course, we can’t know what they think (maybe a good thing!)but things like purring, stretching and scratching are all your cat’s way of saying “it’s been a hard day of napping, snoozing, dozing, catching forty winks, having a siesta – it’s a tough life being a cat.”
Cats in veterinary hospitals often spend their time purring, and they are definitely not happy! (My cat purrs when I pick him up – and I can guarantee he’s really not charmed at all!) In fact, it takes a lot of effort to purr, because, as well as the muscles in the larynx, purring takes a toll on the diaphragm as well, which is the balloon of muscle which inflates when the cat inhales and exhales. Since, during life-threatening trauma and pain, all non-essential functions are shut off to divert energy to the absolutely necessary ones, any remotely unneeded activity will be disposed of. If the purr were not strictly necessary he wouldn’t be doing it. So the purr seems to be a self-healing mechanism for the cat, and therefore a survival tool as well. Is there no end to the ingenuity of these animals?
Purring and You!
It’s long been speculated that the healing of bones is accelerated by the purr of a cat, which operates at a frequency of between 25 – 140 Hz (Hertz.) The 25-50 Hz range has been scientifically proven to increase bone density by 20%. So all those ladies with osteoporosis, go and become a Crazy Cat Lady! You can adopt a shelter cat at the same time – kill two birds with one stone!
Every cat owner has a 40% less chance of having a heart attack! Yay! Next time someone says to you: “cats are aloof. I don’t like cats,” share this interesting fact with them. Hey, that’s not to say that cat owners will NEVER have a heart attack, but why take the chance?
Cats’ purrs lower blood pressure, saving you the expense and side effects of medication. Why swallow pills when you can pat a cat? It’s furrier, friendlier, and makes you feel nicer.
Purring helps heal infection and swelling – so next time you have a boil on your “you-know-what” cuddle your cat. It’s like magic!
Who isn’t stressed these days? Yes, it’s nice to reach for a beer or a glass of wine at the end of a long hard slog at the computer answering a hundred million stupid emails – but it’s really nice to reach for a cat and a beer or a cat and a wine. In fact – cats go with everything!
So if your cat’s purr is a panacea for all ills, why are there cats who don’t purr at all? I have a friend whose cat never ever purrs, while my cat is a veritable purr-meister! You would think that if this magical sound heals, de-stresses, communicates love and contentment and generally makes everyone feel better, including the cat, then why do some cats not purr?
So Why doesn’t my Cat Purr?
Cats are just like people. There are the quiet, shy people who don’t like to be the center of attention and prefer to stay in the background, then there are the happy-go-lucky types who just want to constantly have a good time. There are people who never stop talking (I’m one!) and there are loners who just like to be by themselves. There are grumpy and sulky people, people who can’t sit still and all sorts of others. So your cat can purr? Wow! Just because he can doesn’t mean he always wants to. And just because he’s not purring it doesn’t mean he’s not happy. He may just have a different way of expressing it. Maybe he meows a lot or chirps. Cats can make over 30 different sounds and purring is just one of them. He can also express happiness and affection in other ways like cheek rubbing, grooming you and kneading, or he may just want to hang out with you!
The Go-to Guy!
However, if your cat hasn’t always been a furry purry little thing and suddenly he is, there could be something amiss, in which case the first stop is – you guessed it – your friendly neighborhood superhero, The Vet. There may be nothing wrong, but since cats sometimes purr when they’re stressed out or in pain it’s better to be safe than sorry.
So your cat doesn’t purr? I don’t think you should be worried if he isn’t worried! Just get on with loving him!