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Why Do Cats Purr?

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There’s nothing cozier than curling up with a purring kitty on a cold winter night. The sound of purring ups the relaxation factor and has a calming effect on frazzled nerves. But why do cats purr? When you think about it, it’s kind of a bizarre phenomenon.

The short answer is, we’re not really sure. However, there are certainly some theories on the matter. As any semi-observant cat parent can attest, purring seems to indicate a sense of contentment, comfort and security. When your cat is healthy and happy, she’ll let you know by turning on her motor. This argument is supported by cat behaviourists who believe that purring serves a function during nursing, enabling the kitten to the let his mother know that everything is A-OK. She responds in kind, reinforcing her kitten’s behaviour. So, when your cat purrs in response to your loving caress, she’s essentially giving you a thumbs up.

However, cats don’t only purr when they’re happy; they also purr when they’re hungry, injured or distressed. In these situations, purring can be interpreted as an attempt to self-soothe. Purr Therapy (yes that’s a term) also occurs in teams, where two or more cats lie next to each other and purr in an attempt to soothe the one who’s injured. Interestingly, the rate at which a cat purrs is roughly 26Hz, a frequency that promotes tissue regeneration. These internally generated vibrations may serve an evolutionary purpose, providing bone and tissue stimulation during long stretches between intense bursts of activity. By preventing sedentary bodies from becoming weak and brittle, purring allows these natural predators to stay in tip top shape.

Purring occurs through vibration of a cat’s vocal cords in response to messages sent from the central nervous system. It’s a form of communication that can mean different things in different contexts, much like many of the things we do and say. As if cats couldn’t get any more mysterious. Chances are, though, if you’ve got a healthy cat on your hands, her purring means she’s pretty darn content. Happy petting.

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