We all know that cats purr when they feel contented, and most of us owners will experience this lovely sensation whilst our feline friend is sitting on our lap (or right on top of what we are concentrating on, including our keyboard, notes or some useful bits of paper). But, did you know that they can purr for other reasons too?
Kittens learn to purr as a means of letting their mother know that all is fine around them. The mother cat then purrs in return to let her kittens now that she’s relaxed and content too. So purring begins as a form of communication, and we should feel very privileged that cats purr in our presence since they could be viewing us as… well, their parents!
However, cats have also been known to purr when they are injured, in pain (such as when in labour) or even scared (when seeing the vet). Whilst the true cause is not known, it’s thought to be a means of calming themselves and promoting healing. Purring uses a lot of energy, so cats must do it for a specific reason… But what is it? From a survival viewpoint, nature never wastes energy.
The most remarkable aspect of this question is that, for a while now, scientists have known that vibrations at specific frequency levels can promote healing. These vibrations are thought to induce bone growth, even in cases where the bone is broken. Isn’t that remarkable?
A lot of this research was conducted decades ago in the former Soviet Union, with its use in sports training and medicine. However, in 2001, a bioacoustic specialist called Elizabeth von Muggenthaler recorded the purrs of 44 feline members (including cheetahs, ocelots, pumas, and the domestic cat) and found that they purr in the range of 25-150 Hertz (Hz), with the average house cat purring between 25-50 Hz. Interestingly, it is within these frequencies that increase in bone density, pain relief and healing occur.
As Muggenthaler concluded, “An internal healing mechanism would be advantageous, increasing recovery time and keeping muscles and bones strong when sedentary”.
Another (anecdotally reported) ability cats have is “healing by association”. This is quite simply the ability of cats to sympathetically help cure illnesses in people just by hanging around them. Some people claim that their migraine disappears if a cat purrs close to them, or their stomach pain improves if a cat lies on their abdomen. And most cat owners will immediately recognise the feeling of relaxation and comfort they get from their cat.
Studies even suggest that the presence of cats may reduce stress, high blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease – meaning that you may live longer if you have a cat! We’re only starting to understand the health benefits that cats could bring to our lives, but if you wanted another reason to rescue a feline friend, you just got it.