For nearly 9,000 years, cats have been one of the earliest animal companions of human beings.
As of 2017 to 2018, there are roughly 94.2 million cats in the United States as proof of that mutual coexistence. But for a creature that is designed to be (arguably) the most efficient predator in the animal kingdom, what benefit does a cat bring outside the scope of its ‘professional hunting credentials?’
You will be surprised to know that they also tend to be natural healers. We are not talking about just the certified therapy cat, but the normal cats that roam around your home. Modern medical studies have uncovered the supposed healing powers of the feline purring.
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Why Do Cats Purr?
Despite having lived with human communities for nearly ten millennia, there are some things about cats that still remain mysterious. In Ancient Egypt, domestic cats were worshipped as gods – the mortal relatives of the goddess Bast. A better part of our extensive history with cats is colored by myths (e.g. cats have 9 lives) and assumptions (e.g. cats are cold-hearted), thanks to their many idiosyncrasies.
Cats create three major types of vocal sounds: meowing, hissing and purring. Among these three audible expressions, it is the purring that seemed the least understood. Veterinarians and experienced pet owners know that meowing is a cat’s most basic vocalization – anything between greeting their owners from work and telling them that they are hungry (sometimes, at 3:00 AM). Hissing, on the other hand, implies aggression and the readiness to attack at the moment’s notice.
As far as purring is concerned, many of the keener observers of feline behavior believe that the only aspect associated with vocalization is the ability of mother cats to rally kittens with their low-decibel guttural vibration. For the most part, purring is easily categorized as a natural bodily response to pleasure (similar to a person belching after a satisfying meal). In the contemporary times, academics begin considering the groundbreaking idea that feline purr also functions as a self-healing mechanism.
It wasn’t until the year 2001 when this theory finally had support from a legitimate scientific research published in the Journal of Acoustical Society of America. The president of the Fauna Communication Research Institute, Dr. Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, observed the purring of 44 cats of various species (e.g. domestic cats, cheetah, ocelot, puma, etc.) using high-tech audio recording and analysis device (e.g. spectrogram).
Dr. von Muggenthaler is trying to confirm the underlying hypothesis of cat purrs as a self-healing mechanism using the calculable data she has gathered – the vibration frequency range. It is important to consider the fact that there is relatively plenty of medical research about vibration therapy that preceded her investigation. Studies conducted as early as 1983 have already supported the idea of how low-decibel vibration proved beneficial for mammalian physiology.
Her research has provided a more scientific explanation to the puzzling superior biological composition of cats, especially considering the fact that they are naturally agile and extremely resilient despite spending a better part of the 24-hour period sleeping. When cats purr, their bodies vibrate. And when their bodies vibrate, they get better faster.
But the question still remains… If the purring vibration yields positive effects in their physiology; does it also generate the same positive effects for the person having direct physical contact with purring cats?
Every avid reggae fan identifies these two words (Positive Vibration) as one of the most popular tracks played by the legendary Bob Marley. Most would know how to sing it, with or without knowing the riffs. Some would even claim to experience heightened spiritual euphoria, as expressed in the song’s theme/ideology. But believe it or not – with or without any connection to appreciating the music genre – medical practitioners claim to have literally calculated it.
How so? Everyone in the health industry is in a unanimous agreement that positive vibration can be mathematically expressed in any specific frequency between the range of 20 and 150 Hertz. Vibration therapy offers non-invasive methods for correcting physiological defects that would have otherwise strictly required surgery. Under the frequency range of 20 to 150 Hertz, vibrating plates have greatly improved the efficacy of physical rehabilitation.
But what does this have to do with cat purrs? You guessed it! Domestic cats generate the same exact frequency range with their unique self-healing mechanism. Science tends to offer a more convincing explanation for anything categorized as ‘consistently recurring coincidence.’ Hence, logical inference also begs to accept the possibility (no matter how remote) that, like the conventional vibration therapy, the purring of the cat is somehow responsible for the following optimized health benefits experienced by their human owners:
- Benefit 1: Healing of Broken/Ailing Bones
- Benefit 2: Prevention of Infection
- Benefit 3: Healing of Wounds/Lesions
- Benefit 4: Pain Relief
- Benefit 5: Lowering of Blood Pressure
- Benefit 6: Improves Athletic Performance
- Benefit 7: Lessening of Dyspnea (Breathing Difficulty)
- Benefit 8: Improvement in Muscle Strength and Motor Precision
Long Leap of Logic
As presented in the infographics earlier, each health benefit resulting from vibration therapy is backed by a certified medical literature. We have already established that each research investigates patients subjected to a frequency that is within the ‘therapeutic range.’ Finally, we have also established that cats, particularly domestic cats, generate a vibration frequency range of 20 to 150 Hertz.
By virtue of association, the existing facts presented conveniently imply that the purring cat not only heals itself but also the creature (e.g. person) next to it. Other than research, there are stories that quickly gain traction among public readers and it helped bolster this widely accepted claim. A popular example of such irrefutable narrative was featured in the book titled Your Incredible Cat: Understanding the Secret Powers of Your Pet which concerns the miraculous gradual recovery of a 10-year old comatose patient – courtesy of the frequent visitations of a neighborhood cat.
The convenient leap of logic supports the convincing arguments for the healing power of cat purrs. However, it is also important to consider possible challenges to this widely accepted assertion. After all, the only common denominator between standard vibration therapy and cat purrs is the therapeutic frequency range. Here are the two calculable factors that throw a wrench to the popular affirmative claim:
1. Purring Occurrence
Proper vibration therapies, especially those that were subject for research, follow a specific schedule. For instance, the whole body vibration for treating Stage I ulcer was performed three times a day for five consecutive days a week. Provided that this procedure is maintained daily, a patient receiving vibration therapy can already recover within seven days.
In this particular instance, the emphasis for timely application is crucial for the ideal recovery rate. So why is the element of ‘scheduled occurrence’ a problematic factor when relating to cat purr’s vibration?
Simply put it, you have no control over when the cat would purr. You cannot schedule a cat’s physiological response – no more than you can schedule when you’re going to have a bone fracture or an infection.
2. Purring Duration
Duration is also crucial for every vibration therapy procedure. In 2004, the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research published a study wherein children with disabling conditions have experienced significant improvements in bone growth after 6 months of vibration therapy. Doctors maintained the frequency and magnitude of 90 Hertz, 0.3g for 10 minutes each day, five days a week.
Unfortunately, the odds of a cat purring for 10 minutes or more are simply impossible to determine (let alone control). In fact, a paper published in the 2011 Conference: Fonetik at Stockholm University measures the average duration of a healthy cat’s purr around 500 to 800 milliseconds for each 13 to 20 cycles. The average duration barely lasts a single minute.
For now, the healing power of cat purrs can either be directly caused by the vibration or a result of something else entirely. Adherents support the idea that, other than alternative vibration therapy, cat purrs also activate the human body’s self-healing mechanism. Skeptics, on the other hand, are inclined to believe that cat purrs are merely ‘placebo effect.’
Whichever side of the argument you would choose, the ultimate truth binding this subject could be derived from these two irrefutable conclusions:
- There is neither evidence nor logical possibility that cat purrs directly hurt humans.
- Like all living beings that embody healthy affection, cats prove to be a vital moral support for an ailing patient that strives to get back on his/her feet.
To anyone who is fond of their feline fur babies, nothing could be more comforting than the semi-mute motor-like sound and sensation of their purr as they lounge on their lap or doze at their bedside. The healing power of cat purrs is just as potent as the strong bonds shared between the cats and ‘their’ beloved humans.