The purr of a cat. It’s the most mesmerizing sound. It’s the sound that makes you smile and think all is right in his world. That gentle sound relaxes and even mystifies you, but just how much do you really know about why and how your cat purrs? Some facts may surprise you. The purr serves more than one purpose so if you were under the impression, as so many people are, that cats only purr when happy or content, you’re missing out on how multifaceted a purr truly is.
How Cats Purr
This had been a mystery for many years. One theory that used to make the rounds was that purring was created by blood flow turbulence in the chest. The theory that experts now believe to be most credible is that it’s created by the laryngeal and diaphragmatic muscles in combination with a neural oscillator. A message from a neural oscillator in the brain gets sent to the laryngeal muscles, causing them to vibrate. Their movement controls how much air passes through.
Purring occurs during inhalation and exhalation. In some cases, the purr is so quiet and low, you may feel it more than hear it. Some cats have very loud purrs though and you can hear those motor boats clear across the room.
In the Beginning for Kittens
The mother cat purrs during labor which may be to self-soothe and also for pain control. Endorphins are released when cats purr which can help in pain management.
Once kittens are born, the mother’s purr is crucial to their survival. Kittens are born blind and deaf but they do feel vibrations. It’s the mother’s vibrating purr that leads them to her body for nursing and critical warmth since they’re unable to regulate their own body temperature yet.
Kittens can purr when they’re just two days old and that starts the communication between littermates and their mom.
When kittens reach the teats they begin what is known as the milk tread. They press and flex their paws to stimulate milk flow. They also typically purr while kneading. This combination behavior of purring and kneading is often carried over into adult life. You’re probably very familiar with hearing or feeling your adult cat purr when kneading on soft objects.