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why cats purr?

(March 9, 2010)

The primary function of a cat’s purr is believed to be a means of communication between the mother and her kitten. Kittens develop the ability to purr on the second day of their lives and are able to nurse and purr at the same time. The mother cat also responds by purring, probably as a means to provide reassurance to the kitten.

Some studies propose that purring is produced when the nerves in the voice box are activated. These nerves produce signals which cause the vocal cords to vibrate. The diaphragm meanwhile, pumps air in and out of the vibrating vocal cords, thereby resulting in a humming sound. Other research indicates that purring is a voluntary act and initiates from the central nervous system. Purring is a very important part of the communication system of cats. There are several reasons why purring occurs. Purring is classified in the murmur vocalization group which includes sounds that a cat produces with the mouth closed. Other sounds of this category include calling and grunting.

All domestic cats purr, and some wild cats such as mountain lions and pumas also display the ability to purr. As the cat advances in age, the reasons for purring begin to change. In some cases, cats purr when they are pleased or content. However, cats may also purr when they are frightened or very ill. Female cats purr during the delivery of kittens. Cats may even purr when they are approaching death.
Animal behaviorists are of the opinion that when cats purr due to stressful situations, they are trying to give comfort or reassurance to themselves. This is similar to the humming or singing by humans during times of nervousness. Cats that are frightened may purr in order to indicate they are not aggressive. This serves as means of displaying their submissiveness in such situations.

Feral felines may start purring when they want to indicate they are not going to attack. This serves to communicate to other cats that they should not feel threatened. Older cats usually purr to signal friendliness so that they can come closer or play with other cats. More recent research has proposed that purring results due to the release of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are released in the brain when pleasure or pain is experienced. This research is in line with older research which states that the brain initiates purring. However, all these explanations are indicative of the fact that purring communicates contentment and is also used for self-assurance during periods of stress.

Submitted by A on March 9, 2010 at 11:38


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