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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Cat Purrs

The sound of a cat purring is so magical and proven to be comforting that there is even an app to simulate the sound. Who doesn’t love a feline motor? It’s the sound of contentedness, comfort, and pleasure. And it is actually so much more! Here are ten things to enlighten your experience of that sweet humming noise.

Volume

The average volume of a purr is 25 decibels. Cats themselves have ultrasonic hearing, a range wider than human hearing, so a whisper of a purr may actually be as loud a signal as your cat can stand to hear herself make in that moment.

Muscles

Purring is the result of inhaling and exhaling with a vibrating larynx (“voice box”). A signal in your cat’s brain says “Purr” and the laryngeal muscles twitch 25 and 150 vibrations per second!

All Kinds of Purrs

Purring is not unique to cats. Guinea pigs purr, hyenas purr, and so do raccoons! (Imagine a tuxedo cat purring side-by-side with a stripey raccoon. So sweet!)

Roars

Lions can’t purr because they can roar. Housecats can’t roar because they can purr. No way to do both with the same set of muscles.

Communication

Purrs are not all about happiness. Your kitty could be telling you one of many different things when she purrs: “If I purr you’ll think I’m an excellent cat and then leave me alone” (people-pleaser). “WHAT IS THAT CARRIER DOING HERE now I’ve gotta stay calm…” (nervous). “I’m fine * sniff * sniff * stop looking at me, you stepped on my tail but I’m OK, okay?” (trying not to cry). “Oh wow, this scratch-post is so scratched now. I did a good job,” (self-satisfied). “Thanks for petting me. I feel so sweet,” (joy, pleasure).

Pause

The sound of running water can pause the act of purring. If your cat is purring to keep herself calm at the vet’s office, for example, it will be nearly impossible to hear her heartbeat or breath. The doctor will run the tap, and the soothing sound of water helps kitty chill out and stop the panic purr.

Healing

Purring has the power to heal. Studies show improved bone density and muscle health in cats, and the human companions of cats who purr.

Labor

Female cats will purr during the first stage of labor. This gives personal comfort, and an added social benefit of gathering animals to take care.

Location

Because kittens are born blind and deaf, eyes and ears shut for the whole first two weeks of life, nursing cats need to purr, or send a physical signal to the young ones about where they are.

Hunger

Just like the sweet babies they are, cats use their voices to cry to their humans about how hungry they are. These special “Feed Me” purrs are at a higher frequency than other purrs, and sometimes come with a nudge or a longing look.

Next time you’re curled up with your cat, you’ll have a whole new appreciation for the range and power of the mighty purr.