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A study by the University of Keele has allowed us to identify what cats want to convey when they purr and have concluded that there are different types according to their needs, the activity they are doing and the relationship they have with other cats. This is stated by Jan Hoole, leader of this research: “The analysis of the sound has shown that when a cat is asking for food, either from its mother or a human, its purr has a high pitch note that is similar in frequency to the of the crying of a baby, but not so strong. This affects the hormonal status of female mammals and stimulates a response of care and protection to who emits the sound.”
Of course, when a cat is being petted or snuggles with its owner on the couch, the purr it produces is much more soporific and generally calming: “In this case, the crying component is missing in the sound analysis.”
According to the study, adult cats purr when they are close or in physical contact with another species mate, when they are cleaning, when they interact with a toy or while they eat. All of them are moments when they are alone and not necessarily with human beings around. But it is true that if they need to eat or be caressed they will do it more often.
But not everything is good. According to veterinarians, cats can also purr if they feel great pain or even shortly before they die. It can be incongruous, considering that this way of communicating is related to pleasure, but they are really asking for help: “It can be a way of masking that they are injured or that they are vulnerable. If you are a small animal, even if you are carnivorous, it is not a good idea to show weakness, as it could encourage predators to attack you,” says Professor Hoole.
How do cats purr?
Although the mechanism that produces this sound has not been found, it is known to involve the muscles of the larynx and the diaphragm, which is activated by stimuli of nerve activity from the brain, which occur about 20 or 30 times per second. This occurs when cats breathe, both in the process of inhalation and exhalation, which would explain the continuous sound of purring.