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Pet Wise: The healing powers of a cat’s purr | COMMENTARY

Animals have always been an important part of my life. I grew up with cats and later as an adult, we had dogs join the family. I have been training and showing dogs since 1975. However, I always had to have a cat because they have a way of keeping us humans humble!

Our current cat, Maya, is living proof of this theory! She was adopted from the Humane Society of Carroll County over a year ago. When I met her, she was meek and leaning against the back of her cage. I made a chirping “greeting” sound and performed the “Jackson Galaxy Slow Eye Blink” and she gradually relaxed and allowed me to massage the sides of her pretty face. Then she started to softly purr and won my heart!

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Maya spent the first three weeks with us hidden under the guest room bed. We knew she was OK because she ate her breakfast and dinner. Then Maya began her “take-over” of our home and lives! She invents games, anything can become a toy and she will sometimes touch noses with my dog. My husband and I are her humble servants and cherish when she shows affection as she lap sits and turns on her “purr motor!”

How cats purr

Purring involves the rapid movement of the muscles of the larynx (voice box) combined with movement of the diaphragm (the muscle at the base of the chest cavity). The muscles move at around 20 to 30 times per second. As the cat breathes, air touches the vibrating muscles, producing a purr.

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Why cats purr

According to the :Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book," purring is the most common voice message of a cat. This communicates contentment with humans or another cat. When a cat sits on your lap, purrs and kneads your body with its paws it is displaying the same feeling of security and nurturing with you as with its mother. Newborn kittens knead the areas on each side of their mother’s nipples to express milk. When your cat kneads you, it is simply making you its surrogate mother.

All that purring your cat is doing isn't just for itself. Research says it helps heal. Suddenly, cats snuggling close when their humans aren't feeling well makes much more sense.
All that purring your cat is doing isn't just for itself. Research says it helps heal. Suddenly, cats snuggling close when their humans aren't feeling well makes much more sense. (D-Keine/E+/Getty Images North America/TNS)

Is there healing power in a cat’s purr?

An article with this title appeared on the Orthopedics Week website and provides some interesting information by cat expert and professor, Dr. Leslie A Lyons, PhD, who is the principal investigator in the Feline Genetics Laboratory of the University Of Missouri College Of Veterinary Medicine.

Lyons explains that "most cat species produce a ‘purr-like’ vocalization which people generally view as a form of communication or as an expression of pleasure. Cats purr as a result of being stroked or fed or when they are nursing kittens. Lyons states that "the vibration of the cat’s diaphragm, which with larynx creates the purr, requires energy. If an animal is injured it would not use this energy unless it was beneficial to their survival. If purring is a healing mechanism, it may help them recover faster and could save their life. Because cats have adapted to conserve energy by means of long periods of rest and sleep, it is possible that purring is a low energy mechanism that stimulates muscles and bones without using a lot of energy.”

Arden Moore, author of the “Cat Behavior Answer Book” and “Happy Cat and Happy You,” advises cat owners not to underestimate the power of purring because recent studies have  validated that hanging around a contented purring cat can drop a human’s  high blood pressure within normal range, decrease stress, conquer feelings of loneliness and even bolster self-confidence. If you need further proof, please read, "The Healing Power of Pets,: written by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker.

Maya’s thoughts on this topic? Cats purr because the can!

Iris Katz serves as a member of the board of directors and as an educational facilitator for the Humane Society of Carroll County. Her Pet Wise column appears on the third Sunday of the month.

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