We love to hear our cats purr and there is nothing better than a cat curled up on your lap, content and happy, but why do they do it?
Humans laugh, dogs wag their tails and cats purr. All of us show our happiness in different ways. However, purring is not always a sign of happiness in a cat. Sometimes it can be a response to pain or distress. Indeed, cats may purr while giving birth and it is thought that purring is more likely to be a mechanism that helps cats rest and repair.
Purring may be a feline self-comforting behaviour and it starts when kittens are only a few days old, perhaps signalling their presence to their mother, encouraging her to feed them. This form of communication continues into their adult lives.
What is most surprising is that cats have no special apparatus in their body to enable them to purr. Purring involves the rapid movement of the muscles of the larynx combined with movement of the diaphragm. The muscles move at around 20 to 30 times per second. As the cat breathes, air touches the vibrating muscles, producing a purr.
The purr and meow combo
Cats have a special type of purr that they have developed and use when they want our attention, especially when they wish to be fed! This purr is known as a ‘solicitation purr’ and involves a combination of the purr and meow. Cat owners respond to this sound in a similar way that parent’s respond to the cry of their baby and is a wonderful example of how our domesticated feline friends have evolved to live with us.