The Real Reason Why Cats Purr

Cats: the Egyptians worshipped them, the Internet loves them, and almost no one understands


Why do they purr?

"(cat purring)"

What's all the meowing about?


Let's explore the feline brain and get to the bottom of it.

Wild at heart

No one's sure when cats first moved into our homes and our hearts, but it's probably between

5,000 and 10,000 years ago.

By comparison, dogs have been domesticated for around 40,000 years, and over those years

we've selectively bred hundreds of types to fill certain roles, from hunting and herding

to nestling into purses.

Cats, on the other paw?

Experts say the 40 or so breeds of housecat are semi-domesticated or self-domesticated

at best, meaning they're choosing to tolerate being tamed.


In exchange for creature comforts … but would totally still stalk and kill a sparrow

if given the chance.

Genetically, the domestic housecat still has most of its DNA in common with its wild cousins,

and unlike many dog breeds, cats could survive quite well if they were released into the


Cat code

Cats have developed a super-top-secret language that they use only to communicate with humans:




Yep: that's just for us!

Cats that live together don't usually meow to each other, and studies of feral cat colonies

have found that cats in feline-only company are actually pretty quiet.

It's people they won't shut up around …

Researchers in 2013 showed that cat owners, after listening to a recording of a dozen

different cats meowing, were able to understand the context of only one meow: the one coming

from their own cat.

In other words, your cat learns to make specific meows in order to get what it wants out of

you — it's not some universal cat language.

Op-PAW-sites attract

Animal psychologists wanted to see which paw certain cats favored, so they gave 42 cats

a small jar with a bit of tuna in it.

The only way they could get it out was to reach in and, well, fish it out which would

reveal their dominant paw.

Surprisingly, the results were split almost perfectly based on the sex of the cat.

There were 21 males and 21 females in the test, and after dozens of trials, 20 of the

males were left-pawed, with one ambidextrous over-achiever, while twenty of the females

were right-pawed, with one favoring the left.

The experts say this probably has something to do with hormone levels, and it's only true

when performing particularly challenging feats.


Two-way street

Everybody knows somebody who's allergic to cats, so they miss out on the joys of living

with a plastic pee and poop-filled box in their house at all times.

But it's estimated that about 1 in every 200 cats suffers from a cat version of asthma,

which looks and sounds like this:

"(difficulty breathing)"

The biggest cause?


The monsters.

That's right: plenty of cats are allergic to people, with human dandruff cited as a

major cause.

The asthma can also be triggered by other irritants that humans bring into their homes,

such as cigarette smoke.

Some cats can have such a powerful allergic reaction to humans and their habits they could

suffer collapsed lungs or even broken ribs.

Asthmatic cats can usually have their conditions managed, but vets consider it incurable.

Walking heat maps

Here's a less-depressing feline fact: Some cats are heat-sensitive, and can change the

color of their fur based on their environment.

How cool is that?

There are eight different sets of genes in each cat that governs what color they're going

to be.

Siamese cats and their cousins have a gene modifier called a Siamese allele.

That modifier blocks color from getting to the cat's fur, which should, in theory, make

them albinos.

But it doesn't, because it's only activated by heat.

Once the temperature gets up to around 100 degrees, the color stops.

That's why the cooler parts of a Siamese cat's body, such as the nose, ears, and paws, are

usually dark, while the rest of their fur stays light.

It doesn't just happen once — Siamese cats can change color any time when the temperature

of their environment changes.

So this means their paws actually lighten if covered for long enough with a bandage,

or if you made them wear socks or mittens...

"Finally, there's an elegant, comfortable mitten for cats!"


"I couldn't hear anything!"

Why cats purr

While it's true that cats purr when they're happy, that's not what the purring means — or

the only time cats do it.

Experts say that the most accurate translation of a purr is something like "Don't go anywhere,


They're asking to be cared for, not telling you how happy your care is making them.

But cats also purr when they're injured or scared, and researchers think that it has

something to do with the healing power of the purr.

Cats purr at a frequency of 26 hertz, the same frequency that's been found to promote

healing in bone and other body tissues.

Sounds crazy, right?

But it's the same idea behind exercise for rehabilitation in humans: bones respond to

pressure by making themselves stronger.

It also might be why healthy cats will often curl up with an injured cat and purr.

They're trying to help regrow its bones.

How cool is that?

Nice job, cats.

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