Purr Therapy

During a recent perusal of accumulated newspapers, we found an interesting tidbit about felis catus. The results of a survey among cat-owning wine drinkers found that 70% felt time with a cat was more calming than a glass of wine.

Yes, we fully agree. As wonderful as wine is, it doesn’t appeal to all the senses, and once consumed, there’s no more joy to be had. A cat, however, can be seen, felt, heard, smelled… hopefully, not tasted unless you’re giving us one of those odd kisses humans seem to insist on. A cat’s attitude is all about calm…relax, take a nap, find a spot in the sun. We are the definition of unstressed.

And then there’s that purr. A curious phenomenon, according to humans. It’s been the subject of endless study, and became the main division for sorting cats. The theory was that large cats didn’t purr, only roared, and so they were placed in family panthera. Smaller cats could only purr, and so were relegated to family felis. We know now that many larger cats do purr, including cheetahs and cougars. Other big cats like tigers and lions have not been recorded purring, though some investigators have suggested that certain sounds made by mating females, particularly among lions, may be purrs.

So what is the purr? About the only thing known for sure is that it is a sound unique to cats and their close relatives. Other animals that are sometimes said to purr, like otters, make a sound that in no way resembles the true feline purr. The difference is in the production of the sound itself – which is still something of a mystery. Scientists have established that it involves the larynx and diaphragm, and occurs during both the inhale and exhale. Beyond that, humans are clueless as to the how of the feline purr.

Another curious and distinctive fact about the feline purr – all felines, regardless of size, purr at a frequency of about 26 Hz. No matter how loud or how quiet your cat’s purr, he’s still vibrating along at 26 Hz. One theory holds that this may help with tissue regeneration. It’s like High Impact Aerobics without having to get up and move – the vibration keeps bones from becoming brittle in a species not known for spending much time running around. Don’t laugh – NASA is considering using similar devices to help prevent loss of bone density in astronauts.

A good purr can do a lot more for humans than just make you happy. The purr vibration can help heal bones, reduce infections and swelling, and lower blood pressure. Cat owners are 40% less likely to have a heart attack, thanks to the stress relief provided by their feline companions. Interacting with cats can be so beneficial that the CDC has acknowledged the healing power of the domestic cat.

It’s nice to finally receive our proper recognition.

So next time you’ve had a tough day at the job, enjoy that glass of wine, but don’t forget to curl up with your cat friend as well.


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