The Healing Power of a Cat's Purr
The Purr Brigade
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.”
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!
Rum Tum Tugger
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.
A Video Explanation
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 of the 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.
What Do You Think?
Do you think a cat's purr has healing properties?
Our Nurse Cat
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
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
Could you meditate to this sound?
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?
Have you ever heard a cat purr this loud?
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