A Cat Clinic

Purr Power! The Power of Purring Cats

Posted on: August 30th, 2013 by Dr. Dale Rubenstein

Purr Power!

We all know there is no better feeling in the world than having a cat sit on your lap purring. But could that wonderful feeling actually be improving your health? Read the blog posting below, from the Feline Docs website.
Purring cats-what does it mean?

Aug 29, 2013 by Dr. Cathy Lund , owner of City Kitty Veterinary Care for Cats in Providence, RI.

What’s not to love about a purring cat on your lap? We know it’s a great feeling, and now it seems that there might be some extra and unexpected benefits to our physical health—would you believe a cat purr can strengthen our bones and reduce our risk of heart disease?

Just another reason people should live with cats!

No one is really sure why cats purr. We know they purr when they’re happy and content, and when they’re trying to be calm, and sometimes when they’re really, really sick. Little kittens have incredibly loud purrs. Some cats have subtle purrs, and some cats come with “insta-purr,” where one touch turns on the motor. Other cats, such as a British cat named Smokey, come with a volume that competes with the noise of a subway train.

I’ve seen many sick cats in my practice who are purring, even though they were clearly not well. We’ve often thought that this kind of purring was a cat’s way of helping themselves feel less fearful and more relaxed. But what if that purr was actually helping to relieve very real physical signs of disease or distress?

Most cats come with a purr that vibrates between 20-140 Hertz, which is a sound wave range that might have a therapeutic effect on people and other animals, not unlike that of a therapeutic laser. This vibration range has been shown to relieve swelling and its associated pain, and also to promote healing in bones and soft tissues.

Truth or science fiction? When I was a vet student studying bone diseases, our professors would tell us that cat broken bones would almost always heal, regardless of any medical or surgical intervention. In fact, they would even joke that a treatment for a dog with a broken bone would be to put it in the vicinity of a cat, because cats were so good at healing. Why was there such a distinct difference in how these species responded to an injury? Could the cat’s purr be a piece of the puzzle?

The use of therapeutic or cold laser devices in medicine has been somewhat controversial, with proponents touting the use of lasers as a treatment for everything from back pain to gum inflammation. What these lasers do is emit a low-level wave frequency in a therapeutic range that lowers the components that make up an inflammatory response. Advocates say laser use can dramatically lessen the symptoms associated with conditions such as a sprained ankle or chronic arthritis. Frequently, these laser therapies are layered with vibration therapies to complement the effects of the light waves. The vibration modality is postulated to increase nerve activity and stimulate muscle and bone strength and resilience.

Cat purrs obviously do not emit light. But there is speculation that the vibration associated with the purr creates its own similar “force field” effect. Chiropractors have been using vibration therapy for years to help break down scar tissue, relieve pain, increase blood flow and enhance mobility. Vibration therapy has been used to decrease swelling in injured tissues and drain lymphatic fluids. Researchers have more recently identified full body vibration therapy as a means to increase bone strength and aid mobility in people born with cerebral palsy, a progressively debilitating neuromuscular disorder.

Vibration therapy in the 90 Hz range is also used to help astronauts combat the bone loss effects of being in a zero gravity environment and has been used successfully in the space program for years.

What else can that feline purr accomplish? Well, we know how soothing being around a purring cat can be, but there also seem to be even more tangible health benefits for us humans. Cats lower our blood pressure and relieve stress—all pets do this but cats are the undisputed champs. Cats have even been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases—if people do not own cats, they are an astonishingly 40% more likely to have heart disease or strokes, based on a paper presented at a 2008 meeting of the American Stroke Association.

What could be next for our amazing felines? Perhaps the day is not far off when we see doctors writing prescriptions for cat ownership, and astronauts will set off for outer space with Kitty in the co-pilot seat.

Dogs can only drool with envy!