Why Do Cats Purr?

Learn the science behind your cat's favorite sound

It’s a familiar and heartwarming refrain. Shortly after cuddling up with your kitty, that lovely rumbling begins, low and steady and soothing.

Interestingly, a feeling of contentment is just one reason that cats purr. “A purring cat can be compared to a smiling person,” says veterinarian and cat specialist Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, a former president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. “Cats may purr because they are happy, or because they’re nervous or stressed, just as people often smile for these reasons.” Experts think purring in these cases may be self-soothing, or even a way for cats to indicate that they want something. (Think of all the times you’ve smiled sweetly when asking your husband to take out the garbage.)

The 25 Hz frequency of the purr is also associated with boosting bone strength -- it may be sort of like feline physical therapy. “Cats sleep many hours of the day, so purring may be a low-energy way to stimulate healthy bones,” says Dr. Colleran. The frequency also has healing properties, and tones in this auditory range are used in human medicine to accelerate wound healing. “Purring may offer an evolutionary health advantage for cats who do it regularly,” she says.

Finally, a purring cat can have health benefits for you, too. The soothing sound actually lowers the blood pressure of a cat’s human companions -- studies have found that cat owners are less likely to have heart attacks.

Amy Roberts is a New York City-based writer and editor.

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