It may sound like the wishful thinking of a crazy cat lady, but there is actually some good scientific evidence that cats, and their purrs, can be beneficial to people’s health.
Both emotionally, and even in wound healing, the sound of a cat purring can actually help some people heal. Read on to find out how.
What Happens When a Cat Purrs?
Purring begins in a cat’s brain. When a cat is content, the brain generates a rhythmic, repetitive neural oscillation message that is received by a cat’s laryngeal muscles, causing them to twitch. The message causes twitches at the rate of 25 to 26 vibrations per second, or 25-26 Hz.
When a cat inhales and exhales, the vocal cords separate, and the air passing over the vocal cords produces sound. The laryngeal muscles functionally work as a valve for the air flowing past the voice box. The fact that this works on both inhale and exhale creates the impression that cats purr continuously.
But Why Do Cats Purr?
Contentment is the main reason that cats purr, but they also purr when frightened or threatened. Some scientists say that the easiest way to think about purring is to compare it to human smiling.
Humans smile when they are happy, but they also smile when they are nervous or startled. Some believe that we do this to try and calm ourselves, and it may be that this is why cats purr when they are scared or hurt.
Cats purr when they are in pain and when they are in labor, when they are ill and sometimes even when they are near death. For many years, scientists have wondered why. Purring uses energy, so why this energy expenditure during times of vulnerability?
25 Hz Therapy
Researchers such as Elizabeth von Muggenthaler of the Fauna Communications Research Institute in North Carolina was one of the first to theorize that feline purrs did provide an evolutionary advantage in healing.
This advantage would come from the specific benefits of the frequency at which most cats purr: 25 Hz.
25 Hz has actually been scientifically found to promote healing in mammals, including humans. A wide range of studies has found that both wounds and chronic conditions heal more quickly when exposed to low-intensity vibration.
Researchers at the University of Illinois demonstrated how low-intensity vibration healed the foot ulcers of type 2 diabetes patients more quickly than those not exposed to the vibrations. Other studies have shown how low-intensity vibration has helped in accelerating bone regeneration in fractures or in the prevention of osteoporosis.
In each of these trials, the patients and their injuries exposed to vibration five times a week for 30 minutes healed more quickly than those who were not.
All of this suggests that cats may have developed their own internal therapeutic system that uses the power of low-intensity vibration to promote their own healing. As a bonus, it may promote your healing as well! Nothing about the studies already conducted says that the vibrations need to be made by machines.
Benefits of Cat Purrs Beyond Wound Healing
The scientific evidence of the way wounds heal when exposed to vibration is a good reason to keep a happy cat near you. There are have been other studies that strengthen that message as well, however.
Additional scientific evidence suggests the following health benefits of cat ownership:
- Lower Blood Pressure: At least one study has shown that people with cats have lower blood pressure than those without cats. The connection is believed to come from the calming effect of petting a cat.
- Reduced Stress and Anxiety: Multiple studies show how petting a cat reduces feelings of stress and anxiety. The petting (and likely the purring) are soothing and calming.
- Help with Autism: Several studies have shown the utility of cats in teaching young people on the autism spectrum about both self-care and caring for others, helping them learn both communication and social interaction skills.
- Lower Risk of Stroke and Cardiovascular Disease: Multiple studies have demonstrated that patients who owned cats at home had much lower risks of both stroke and cardiovascular disease, perhaps because of lowered rates of stress and anxiety. One study found people with cats cut their risk of stroke and heart attack by one third.
Cat ownership isn’t for everyone. Having a cat, however, can be beneficial for the cat owner in more ways than one. A cat provides companionship, comfort, and as science now believes, a healing presence in your home!