A purr is one of those moments we all long for on a terrible day or on a terrific one. The feline purr can be felt and not heard or travel vast distances to fill your ears in the other room. It’s as mysterious as it is soothing…let’s learn some more about it.
A cat’s purr is created by the internal laryngeal muscles on both in the inhale and exhale of a cat’s breathing. The contraction of these muscles causes the space between the vocal cords to open and close. Studies have shown that a unique “neural oscillator” in the cat’s brain controls the laryngeal muscle movement. Cats that cannot “meow” anymore due to injury are normally still able to purr. However, cats that lose their “meows” to laryngeal paralysis lose their purrs as well.
A mother cat’s purr is a physical beacon to her still blind and deaf kittens. The vibration of her purr allows the kittens to feel her location. Around two days after birth, kittens start to purr back (fast learners!)
Have you ever wondered why your kitties knead with their paws while purring? The likely answer is that it is a trait specific to kittens that is retained into adulthood. A kitten kneads it’s mothers chest to start the flow of milk while it feeds. The connection to purring and kneading is left after they are done nursing.
A feline’s purr is described as the nearest equivalent to a smile that cats have. However, this does not necessarily indicate happiness. As with people, a smile can communicate fear, happiness, uneasiness, nerves, and a slew of other emotions. Thus, a purr can indicate many things as well.
If your cat doesn’t purr, don’t fret. Not all cats purr. Again, there is a multitude of reasons why a cat may not purr. In a house with multiple cats the most dominate cat may not purr at all because they would feel in control and have less reason to purr as often. Less confident cats may purr more often to indicate their submission to the most dominate kitty.
While it may not be a superpower, the frequency at which a cat purrs has been shown to help heal bones in humans faster than normal. Couple that with the fact that cat bones typically heal faster than other animals’ bones. Perhaps the purr is an evolutionary trait particular to felines that has developed into an asset for survival.
Big Cat “Purrs”
While only small cats can purr, big cats can sure roar! The expcetion is the ability of the tiger to produce a “silent” low frequency purr. The purr is below the range of human hearing but that shown the ability to briefly “paralyze” and stun prey.