Scientists have succeeded in solving the mystery of the distinctive purr of cats

There is a belief among cat owners that their pets purr when they are happy. Cats often purr when people pet them, which may lead to a link between purring and pleasure. The cats’ behavior suggests that they may also be trying to encourage more interaction, as if signaling that they should continue to be petted. Research shows that cats may purr for a variety of reasons, using the soft rumble as a means of communication. Purring can also be a sign of stress.

Kittens are born blind and deaf and remain so until about two weeks old. However, after only a few days, they start purring, mainly to let their mother know where they are and to attract her attention during feeding time. This behavior can also be observed in adult cats. But this is just one of many different ways to use purring. A 2009 study found that when cats purr in search of food, the sounds sound more urgent and less pleasant, suggesting that they can manipulate their purrs.

Scientists have long wondered how small animals like domestic cats, with short vocal folds, sometimes called vocal cords, can produce such low sounds. We expect it to be found in larger animals that have longer vocal folds, such as elephants. For many years, it was thought that purring was produced by a unique mechanism that involved the periodic contraction and relaxation of the laryngeal muscles, requiring constant neural input from the brain.

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