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The Healing Power of a Cat's Purr

Liz loves animals. Seeing them ill, hurt, or killed breaks her heart. She advocates for "adopt, don't shop" and TNR programs for feral cats.

The Purr Brigade. Are cats therapeutic?  We think so. (Only the striped tabby cat is still with us; the other two—Patches, rear, and Tigger, right—have crossed the Rainbow Bridge.)

The Purr Brigade. Are cats therapeutic? We think so. (Only the striped tabby cat is still with us; the other two—Patches, rear, and Tigger, right—have crossed the Rainbow Bridge.)

Defining the Cat

No animal defies being categorized and defined as much as the cat. Although cats have been regarded as both gods and devils over the centuries, no other domestic animal has inspired so many legends and strong feelings as the cat.

The cat is at once simple and complex; the cat is a contradiction in terms—a living, breathing, oxymoron, if you will. Just when you think you know what they are going to do or how they will react, they will do exactly the opposite.

I can’t help but think of T.S. Elliot’s book, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and the musical stage play, “Cats,” it inspired. One of my favorite songs from that play illustrates this point masterfully, and that is “Rum Tum Tugger.”

You might be tempted to call them "Salt and Pepper," but you'd be wrong.  The white kitty is "Bobbie"; the black one is "Ebony." Bobbie was 7 years old and Ebony was just 9 months old when this photo was taken.

You might be tempted to call them "Salt and Pepper," but you'd be wrong. The white kitty is "Bobbie"; the black one is "Ebony." Bobbie was 7 years old and Ebony was just 9 months old when this photo was taken.

There is no more intrepid explorer than a kitten."

— Jules Champfleury

Stories vs. Anecdotal Evidence

Over the years, there have been many stories by cat owners of how a cat helped them either by purring when they were ill, or just staying nearby to comfort them.

These are wonderful stories, but they do fall under the classification of “anecdotal evidence,” meaning that they are based solely upon personal experiences and without scientific backup.

The problem with anecdotal examples, however, is that they can be biased by any number of factors, including, but not limited to, the power of suggestion; mind over matter (otherwise known as the placebo effect) or simple coincidence.

Nonetheless, many years ago, I once met a family through a mutual friend whose cat they claim saved their infant's life. The child had gotten a bad chest cold and was of the age when he had just learned to roll over on his own. Despite trying to keep his chest warm and bundled with the baby on its belly (that's what was recommended back then), he would roll over and become uncovered and start to cry.

The parents would go in, rearrange the blankets, soothe the child, and put him back down. Their cat was sitting on the dresser watching these proceedings. After a bit, they realized the baby had not cried in a while, and when they went to check, found the kitty laying on the baby's back, preventing him from rolling over and getting uncovered. He soon enough recovered, and their doctor credited that cat with saving the baby's life!

Get down from on top of that book shelf, Stormy!! This is my daughter's kitty, taken at her house.

Get down from on top of that book shelf, Stormy!! This is my daughter's kitty, taken at her house.

Famous Folk Have Admired Cats

The smallest feline is a masterpiece."

— Leonardo da Vinci

A Point of Agreement

On one thing, everyone can agree: cats purr. To most, it is a soothing sound. New research has been done into the idea that the sound is more than just soothing and calming: it can be therapeutic as well.

Science has finally studied the purr and discovered that its frequency, between 25 and 150 Hz, (interestingly, about the same as an idling diesel engine), is ideal for stimulating bone growth and mending. It is known that cats with broken bones heal much more rapidly than dogs with similar injuries.

How do cats purr? Why do cats purr? Do all cats purr? These and many other questions on the matter have now been studied. The most commonly accepted theories are discussed in the video below. While this is simplistic, the points are well made, even if the narrator is a bit of a nerd.

Do All Cats Purr?

Speaking of the domestic house cat, yes. Speaking of their much larger wild cousins, well, it depends. Some of the smaller wild cats such as bobcats and lynx, for example, will purr, but they cannot roar.

The large cats like lions and tigers roar, but they do not purr. They can make a sort of 'chuffing' sound; that is as close as they come to purring.

Time spent with cats is never wasted."

— Colette

The Healing Purr

Science has finally studied the purr and discovered that its frequency, between 25 and 150 Hz, is ideal for stimulating bone growth and mending. It is known that cats with broken bones heal much more rapidly than dogs with similar injuries.

I can cite all the scientific studies in the world, and in the end, we come back to personal experience; that old fallback of anecdotal evidence. We do have our own personal experience with the helpful healing power of cats.

Having 7 kitties of our own, we have noticed a peculiar phenomenon. Whether this is true of all groups of cats, I cannot say. But we do notice that ours will trade off purring, that is, they take turns. It is rare that more than one of them is purring at the same time.

Usually, it is the one in our lap at the moment, but that is not entirely true, either, as there are sometimes three of them at once in our lap, or at least laying with us. Often, I will stretch out on the couch to watch TV, not wanting to sit up straight because of a backache. While the position helps, the relief is more quickly realized if there is a purring cat sitting on me. In this position, usually three of them are on me, from my lap to my shins! But only the “lap” cat is doing the purring.

Those vibrations go through you, via bone conductivity, and it is like a mini-massage. Munchkin, our official "nurse cat," pictured below, (and above in the group shot), is the one with the loudest purr, and she has helped both myself and my husband.

There was a time when hubby had gained too much fluid, and it was affecting his breathing. Munchkin would sense when he was in distress, and would lay on his chest and purr. It helped him.

After my knee replacement surgery, it would help me relax and rest, thereby also easing the post-operative aches and pains, if there was one of the cats on the bed purring. It also had the added benefit of neither knocking me out nor making me nauseated, as the pain pills were inclined to do.

This is our nurse cat, Munchkin.

This is our nurse cat, Munchkin.

The Self-Help Side of the Purr

As mentioned in the videos, cats will also purr to self-comfort when they are in distress themselves.

The purr we normally hear when they are content and in our lap helps us in many ways. But when the cat itself is hurting, it is a different sound; I have heard it. I heard it only once, but it was so startlingly different that I shall never forget that sound.

If there were to be a universal sound depicting peace, I would surely vote for the purr."

— Barbara L. Diamond

Meet Lil' Miss Fuzz; the pint-sized troublemaker of the group; she of the bionic self-healing purr.

Meet Lil' Miss Fuzz; the pint-sized troublemaker of the group; she of the bionic self-healing purr.

Self-Soothing Purrs Help Dissipate Pain

When our first group of foster kittens had come home from their spay and neuter surgeries, I could not find the littlest one (pictured above, all grown up). She was hiding.

Poor Lil' Miss Fuzz! Apparently, she was in more pain than the other two. When I did find her, she was under a table that was wearing a temporary “skirt.” She was all huddled in a ball, purring her little heart out. But what a sound from a tiny kitten! It was unmistakably a purr, but it was a much deeper tone than her normal purr— almost a purr crossed with a growl. It was very low and rumbling.

I instantly realized that this was her self-healing, biofeedback purr. It broke my heart that she was hurting so much, but I realized it would not help to disturb her, or try to hold her. She was best left alone to fix herself. Later in the day, she came out on her own, and indeed, was more willing to move around.

She recovered nicely, with no lingering effects, and stole our hearts so that we adopted her ourselves along with her sister. She is now considered the official troublemaker!

A Meditative Purr

Purring Cats

I invite you to enjoy some various cat purrs for yourself. Some are meditative (included above); others are Guinness World Record-worthy. All are adorable. (At least in this writer's opinion!)

The Loudest Purring Cat in the World

Isn't Smokey's Purr Amazing?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Liz Elias

Purr Your Heart Out and Let Me Know What You Think of Purring Cats!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 23, 2015:

Hello, FlourishAnyway,

Thanks very much; we do love to take photos of our fur children. I go to sleep almost nightly to the sound of a purring cat--unless it's the night when the hallway races are scheduled! LOL

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 23, 2015:

Beautiful photos of your babies, and I really love the idea that that wonderful sound of their purring might actually be good for us.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 19, 2015:

Hi Nell!

I'm so sorry you've become allergic. That is sad. I don't understand why that happens, or how. My grandsons had the opposite happen; they were allergic until they got a cat; after about 2 weeks, they were just fine. "Immersion therapy."

I'm glad you liked the article, and I am happy to have been able to providea non-allergenic kitty fix for you.

Nell Rose from England on January 19, 2015:

I adore cats, but am totally allergic these days! it makes me so mad! lol! I love hearing a cat purr and totally believe that its not only therapeutic but healing too, great info, and I love all the purring cats! lol!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 16, 2015:

Hello, grand old lady!

LOL!! Yay!! You speak cat! What a purrrfect comment! I'm glad you enjoyed this article and the videos! Thanks so much for the compliment.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on January 16, 2015:

Okay it's corny but I can't resist -- this article was purrfect. Especially the last video.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 14, 2015:

Hello, catgypsy,

Thanks very much! I'm so pleased that you liked this hub. I agree--nothing is more soothing than a purring cat. (Unless it's petting the cat!) ;-)

catgypsy from the South on January 13, 2015:

MsLizzy, wonderful hub! I think a cats purr is the best sound in the world and definitely has healing powers.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 13, 2015:

Hello there, bravewarrior!

Cats are indeed awesome and amazing creatures. Just because they have a reputation for being independent and aloof does not mean they are incapable of displaying affection.

Cats are very empathetic; that is, in tune with emotional vibrations. Cats will generally flee from loud voices, whereas a dog may ignore them or bark.

And the little stinkers decided to break their pact, and, cat-like, make a liar out of me! This morning I woke to two of them both purring! LOL

I'm delighted that you so enjoyed this article.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on January 13, 2015:

I have three cats but never knew that their purring has healing powers. That explains why they'll take turns keeping watch over me if I'm sick, down in the dumps, or recovering from surgery.

I'll have to pay attention to their purrs when all three are on the couch with me to see if they take turns purring.

Fascinating hub!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 13, 2015:

@ Karine Gordineer -- I'm glad you enjoyed the article and found a tidbit of new information.

As far as the videos, I don't think that they all load at once to your computer; only when you click the 'play' button on one does it load in. But, I'm not a techie, so I don't really know the whole answer.

I found the Rum Tum Tugger video on You Tube, so if your problem is only on HP, you can find it there instead. Best wishes.

@ MizBejabbers -- Ha! That "pile of cats" is but a sampling of our entire crew. I'm sure you know how difficult it would be to get 7 cats to sit still, all together, for a family photo. LOL We do love our dear fur children though; thank you for the compliment. I'll be sure to pass it along to the conceited darlings. ;-)

Yes--in the first three weeks or so after my surgery, I had to protect my knee from cats, usually by sitting with my legs under the table, or on the couch with a bed table tray across my lap.

However, in the years leading up to the point where I needed surgery, (and before I was eligible for Medicare and had no medical coverage), we had an adorable, loving, black kitty, and she would lay on my knee like a little heating pad. It helped both with the achy-ness, and with stretching exercises so I did not lose the ability to straighten the leg. Sadly, she passed in 2008 from a mystery illness at only 4-1/2 years of age.

Best wishes on fixing your sound issues, and thanks much for the votes!

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on January 13, 2015:

Lizzy, What an adorable pile of cats in your top photo. I am a cat person from the word "GO" and find them all adorable. I'm so sorry that for some reason I can't get videos on HP to play audio as I was looking forward to listening to "Rum Tum Tugger" again. I've seen that show 3 or 4 times and never get tired of it.

You mentioned your knee replacement surgery. When Mr. B had knee replacement surgery, "his" cat would try to sit on his knee too early in the game for him to allow it. Then when I broke my leg last winter, "my" cat would lay across the cast until it became too uncomfortable, and I would have to shift him around. He is a big cat. Then I read that cats are natural healers and they lay on the injured part to heal it. The article didn't mention purrs, but that makes sense. I love their purring, and I'm glad to have two little healers in my house. Great article, and I hope I can get my audio problem fixed so I can listen to your videos. (I've already checked out my sound settings, so I'll have to call in some Geek help.) Voted up ++

Karine Gordineer from Upstate New York on January 13, 2015:

I love cat purrs! Especially from my cats and I had no idea they would help to mend broken bones - amazing! Voted up! One note I wonder if having so many videos makes them difficult to load? I had a hard time running the videos on my laptop which usually doesn't happen.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 12, 2015:

Hi, Ron

You're right--a couple of them are rather amplified; (but not that "loudest cat" in the world example). I've never heard a purr that loud from any of ours. In person, they are much more low-key. Noticeable, yes, but not intrusive.

Not everyone is a cat person, that is true. But did you know that the cat is the single most popular pet in the USA? ;-)

Thanks for stopping by.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on January 12, 2015:

I've never had a cat, and these purrs tell me I probably never will. They would drive me up the wall! Maybe they're more comforting in person, but I find these amplified examples simply annoying. Can you tell I'm not a cat person?

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 12, 2015:

LOL, MichaelMcNabb--I sympathize. We've had our share of cat sneezes in the face. Munchkin, featured in this article, is the most frequent offender; it seems to be her preferred way to wake us up in the morning. But the youngest of the bunch, a 2-year-old orange tabby, usually doesn't do that, but the other day, he sneezed all over my computer monitor! They can be a handful, but so much loving companionship that we forgive them their foibles.

Thanks for sharing!

Michael McNabb from Oconto, Wisconsin, USA on January 12, 2015:

My kitten was scratching/playing on my bed one morning last week. I didn't want her to tear up my mattress so I reached over and played the gotcha game with her front paws. She started purring so I pet her, than she decided we were best friends and her new sleeping/snuggling spot was my chest with her little paws on my face. I let her there for a moment and just before I was going to move her she sneezed on me.

Lesson learned.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 12, 2015:

Hi, Mary!

It seems a lot of people acquire cats in that same way. They are lovable when treated well, just like any animal. Just like people, cats and other animals all have their own personalities and good and bad days.

(Yeah--one of our clowder is a hair-licker! LOL)

Why do cats go to the people who are "not cat people?" I think the answer lies here: Those folks don't follow, chase, or otherwise try to corral the cat, pet it, pick it up, etc; thus, the cat is allowed to come visit them on its own terms. Which is, of course, exactly how a cat thinks the world should be. ;-)

Thanks much for the votes! Glad you liked the piece.

Mary Craig from New York on January 12, 2015:

I was never a cat person until my daughter left us her Persian. We had Pebbles for almost fifteen years and she was the most lovable animal ever. Like Bill, I'm the one she clung to. She used to sleep by my head and lick my hair. But I digress. Pebbles had a repertoire of purrs matching those you have here. Everything you say is completely believable.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 12, 2015:

@ billybuc - LOL! I can only imagine! They do have a way of wrapping us around their delicate little paws. My dad was not a cat person, but he grew to like the cat we had when my kids were little. "Imp" would jump in his lap, and dad would say, "Whassamatter with you? Don't you know I'm the man who doesn't like cats?" But he did like that cat.

@ heidithorne - Ah, yes--that sounds to me like an excellent reason to adopt a furry feline friend. Thanks much for the votes and share!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on January 12, 2015:

Since I'm concerned about bone density as I get older, looks like I gotta get me a cat. :) Love the photos! Voted up, beautiful, interesting and sharing!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2015:

Let's begin this comment by saying I have never been a cat person. Having said that, we got a kitten about six months ago, and guess who her favorite person is....and I pick her up, and she drapes herself across my shoulder, and starts in on the purring...and it is hypnotic, and I'll be darned if that kitten hasn't won my heart. :)