Kittens learn how to purr when they are a couple of days old.
Veterinarians suggest that this purring tells ‘Mom’ that “I
am okay” and that “I am here.” It also indicates
a bonding mechanism between kitten and mother.
As the kitten grows into adulthood, purring continues. Many suggest
a cat purrs from contentment and pleasure. But a cat also purrs
when it is injured and in pain. Dr. Elizabeth Von Muggenthaler
has suggested that the purr, with its low frequency vibrations,
is a “natural healing mechanism.” Purring may be linked
to the strengthening and repairing of bones, relief of pain, and
wound healing (See Web link to Felid Purr: A Healing Mechanism).
Purring is a unique vocal feature in the domestic cat. However,
other species in the Felidae
also purr: Bobcat, Cheetah, Eurasian Lynx, Puma, and
Wild Cat (Complete list in Peters, 2002). Although some big cats
like lions exhibit a purr-like sound, studies show that the Patherinae
Lion, Leopard, Jaguar, Tiger, Snow Leopard, and
Clouded Leopard do not exhibit true purring (Peters, 2002).
What makes the purr distinctive from other cat vocalizations
is that it is produced during the entire respiratory cycle (inhaling
and exhaling). Other vocalizations such as the “meow” are
limited to the expiration of the breath.
It was once thought that the purr was produced from blood surging
through the inferior vena cava, but as research continues it seems
that the intrinsic (internal) laryngeal muscles are the likely
source for the purr. Moreover, there is an absence of purring in
a cat with laryngeal paralysis. The laryngeal muscles are responsible
for the opening and closing of the glottis (space between the vocal
chords), which results in a separation of the vocal chords, and
thus the purr sound. Studies have shown, that the movement of the
laryngeal muscles is signaled from a unique “neural oscillator” (Frazer-Sisson,
Rice, and Peters, 1991 & Remmers and Gautier, 1972) in the
Planet: Cat Guide
- The Cat Guide provides information
on many cat questions such as “Why do cats land
on their feet after a fall?” The Web site also
provides information about cat care, choosing a cat,
training a cat, and cat safety.
- Cat Chat: Understanding Feline Language
- The Humane Society provides brief explanations about cat vocalizations, body language and moods.
- The Felid
Purr: A healing mechanism?
- Elizabeth Von Muggenthaler
presented this paper at the 2001, 142nd annual Acoustical
Society of America, American Institute of Physics,
International Conference. It discusses the possibility
that purring is an evolutionary healing mechanism in
Why do cats purr?
- Scientific American Ask the experts
Leslie A. Lyons briefly explains “Why do cats purr?”
Bonnie V. Feline behavior: a guide for veterinarians. 2nd
ed. St. Louis, MO, Saunders, c2003.
Linda. The cat: its behavior, nutrition, & health. Ames, Iowa State Press, c2003. 392 p.
Lanerolle, Nihal C., and Frederick F. Lang. Functional
neural pathways for vocalization in the domestic cat.
In Physiological control of mammalian vocalization.
Edited by John D. Newman. Plenum Press, New York, London,
c1988, p. 21-41.
Bashkim, and Elizabeth Randolph. CatSpeak: how to learn
it, speak it, and use it to have a happy, healthy, well-mannered
cat. New York, Putnam’s, c2001. 237 p.
Domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour. Edited
by Dennis C. Turner and Patrick Bateson. 2nd edition.
Cambridge, UK, New York, Cambridge University Press,
2000. 244 p.
Dawn E., D.A. Rice, and G. Peters. How cats purr. Journal
of zoology: proceedings Zoological Society of London,
v. 223, January 1991: 67-78.
Georgina. The power of purring. Nature Australia,
v. 27, Winter 2002: 16-17.
Joan. Why do cats meow? New York, Dial Books
for Young Readers, c2001. 46 p. (Juvenile).
Mildred. Vocalizing in the house cat. American journal
of psychology, v. 57, 1944: 184-205.
G. Purring and similar vocalizations in mammals. Mammal
review, v. 32, Dec. 2002: 245-271.
and physiology. Editorial. Lancet, v. 339, June
27, 1992: 1578.
J.E., and H. Gautier. Neural and mechanical mechanisms
of feline purring. Respiration physiology, v.
16, Dec. 1972: 351-361.
Roger. Understanding cats: their history, nature, and
behavior. Pleasantville, New York, Reader’s
Digest, 1997. 144 p.
more print resources...
Search on "cats," "cats behavior," "cats physiology," "cat family," "felis," and "felidae"
in the Library of Congress Online
A cat will often purr when being stroked and petted.
Cat and her kittens. Canyon County, Idaho.
Prints & Photographs Division, Library of
Catsup - Man squirting
milk from cow into
mouth of a cat. Prints & Photographs
Division, Library of Congress.
Canada lynx kitten. Photo courtesy of the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Cheetah. Photo courtesy of the National
Alma Hanlon and
kittens. Prints &
Photographs Division, Library of Congress.