28 October 2010

Purring for friendship

Why do cats purr? Desmond Morris claims in Cat World (1996) that a cat's purring is a sign of friendship: "either when it is contented with a friend, or when it is in need of friendship-as with a cat in trouble." A similar opinion is given by Turner & Bateson (The Domestic Cat: the biology of its behaviour, 1988): "...the purr helps establish and maintain a close relationship [between kittens and their mother]. Probably for similar reasons, the purr is used by adults in social and sexual contexts."

My cat Marissa purrs primarily under 2 circumstances. First, when she is sitting or kneading near us like she was when I took this picture.

Second, when she is asking for food. The latter behavior is often accompanied with vigorous head rubbing, especially in the mornings. Here is a recording of her purring I made one morning a few days ago with my iPhone. I had just gotten up and opened the bedroom door. She came in and started rubbing against my legs while purring loudly.

Hungry Marissa Purring


Tristram Brelstaff said...

A long time ago I read somewhere that young felines purred to inhibit the killer instinct of their parents. I suspect that this was not an entirely serious suggestion, but it should be fairly easy to test.


Turner & Bateson mention instances of mother cats killing & eating their kittens. So kittens' purring may indeed have an inhibitory effect on mothers. I am not sure how the idea can be tested though. One would have to prevent either the kittens from purring or the mothers from hearing. The exact mechanism of purring may not be known. Therefore, surgery to prevent purring-without preventing meowing-may not be feasible & will be cruel. On the other hand, temporarily deafened mother cats may still feel the vibrations from purring kittens' throats.

Do cats born deaf purr?

Deniz Bevan said...

Great photo! Ours also purr while drinking from the faucet or cleaning each other.