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Pet Talk: Why Do Cats Purr?

Cat parents know that when their beloved kitty is curled up in their lap purring they are happy and content.

What most people don’t know is happiness isn’t the only thing that makes cats purr. They purr to communicate other emotions and needs.

Some cats purr when it’s time to eat.

Researchers studied the sounds house cats make when they are hungry and when food is not on their minds. They found the purrs do not sound the same. When they purr for food, cats combine their normal purr with an unpleasant cry or mew, a bit like a human baby’s cry. Experts believe we are more likely to respond to this sound and feed them because it appeals to our nurturing instincts.

A mother cat purrs during labor and delivery to self-soothe herself. It is believed endorphins are also released which can help with pain management. Sick or injured cats are known to purr for the same reasons.

Kittens are born blind and deaf, but they do feel vibrations. It is their mother’s purring that leads them to her body for nursing and warmth. Purring also helps kittens bond to their mother. Mama kitty uses it like a lullaby.

Kittens start to purr when they are only a few days old and this starts communication with their mother and litter mates. It’s probably a way to let their mother know where they are and that they are okay. Purring may have developed as a signaling mechanism of reassurance between mother cats and nursing kittens that continues into adulthood.

Animal behaviorists believe that when cats purr under stressful circumstances, like going to the veterinarian, they are comforting and reassuring themselves.

Frightened cats purr to communicate non-aggressive intentions.

A feral cat may purr to signal that he will not attack so other cats do not feel threatened.

Scientists believe purring is a natural healing mechanism that cats use to heal themselves. The vibrations are therapeutic for bone growth, pain relief and wound healing. There is also evidence that the series of vibrations caused by purring can repair muscles and tendons, ease breathing and reduce swelling.

Not only does purring help your cat, it can be so relaxing that it can lower your blood pressure.

Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected]

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