The Mystery Behind A Purring Cat

Studies suggest there may be many reasons why cats purr.

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There may be many reasons why your cat purrs. Luca Coccia/iStock/Thinkstock
Cari Jorgensen

Don’t you just love when your cat purrs, especially when she’s curled up in your lap? Have you ever wondered why she’s purring (besides from the obvious “my cat is so happy to be with me” kind of way)?

Apparently there is no straight answer, but IFL Science recently reported that the best guess on how cats are able to purr on both inhales and exhales is by the “intermittent contracting of their laryngeal and diaphragmatic muscles.” Evidence shows that cats whose laryngeal muscles are paralyzed are unable to purr. No studies have indicated so far if a cat purrs voluntarily or involuntarily (though it is more fun to think it’s a voluntary reaction to show they’re grateful to us, isn’t it?).

So why do they purr? Oftentimes when a cat is purring we think she must be happy, but given that cats purr in a variety of situations, including while being petted and also while under stress or injured, chances are cats purr for some other reason. According to IFL Science, cats purr at frequencies ranging from 25 to 150 Hertz that can indicate pleasure but may also aid in the healing process. When I was a dancer we were always told that it was a beneficial activity because it would increase bone density due to the vibrations that things like couru, chassé, changement and jeté caused. Because cats tend to be more sedentary as opposed to spending hours a day running and jumping the way a ballet dancer might, it’s possible that purring gives them the vibrations they need to improve bone density.

As cat lovers, we can get behind the idea that there may be multiple reasons why cats purr, just like there are many reasons, both good and bad, as to why a human may cry. And the way some humans may use tears to get what they want, cats may be doing the same with their purring. After all, can you say that none of your cats have ever purred until you gave them an extra treat or more attention?

We just hope more studies are done to give us answers so that the mystery behind a purring cat is no longer such a mystery.

Article Categories:
Behavior and Training · Cats · Health and Care