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Can You Understand Your Cat’s Purrs? Listen and See.

Eddie purr image

Cat Signals of Communication

In our house cats, many signals of communication with humans appear to originate from the time the kittens were dependent on their mother.  Purring in domestic cats is one of these signals, with kittens first being observed purring while nursing.  We typically associate purring as a sign of a happy, contented cat but some cats also purr at feeding time when they are actively seeking food from their guardians.

House cats use many different tactics and signals to communicate with their humans. Sometimes if a cat feels a hunger pang and breakfast is not served, the cat might attempt to wake their parent by knocking items off  the night stand or leaping onto their beds and waking them with intense staring or a tap of the paw.  If these efforts fail, the cat will turn to its secret weapon, the solicitation purr also known as the manipulative meow.

The Solicitation Purr versus the Non-Solicitation Purr

A recent study exposed  one of the house cats best kept secrets, that cats are able to control their humans by making a subtle change in their purr that exploits the sensory biases of the humans that share their homes. Cats are able to embed a high frequency vocal component within their low frequency purr that triggers a sense of urgency in their humans.

This solicitation cry, embedded within the naturally low-pitched purr is dramatically emphasized by cats when they want food. The cat has figured out that this cry taps into an inherent mammalian sensitivity making the sound difficult to ignore.

The study carried out by the Centre for Mammal Vocal Communication Research in the Psychology Department at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom showed that the domestic feline’s manipulated purr-cry occurs at the same frequencies, (300-600Hz) as a human infant’s cry. The cat does not go so far as to mimic the urgency of the cries of a distressed human infant but has adapted to vocalize so that their parent most likely will not just roll over and go back to sleep.

House cats have figured out how to bridge the inter-specific communication gap between feline and human by  taking advantage of  basic nurturing instincts  enhancing  the level of cooperation and care they receive from their pet parents. Subtle and clever manipulation.

Can You Differentiate Between Cat Purrs?

Below are two recordings; one solicitation purr and one non-solicitation purr.  Can you differentiate between the two cat purrs?    Listen to both Purr A and Purr B. Which purr do you think is the solicitation purr?  Let us know in the poll below.

Purr A*

 

Purr B*

 

*The cry embedded within the purr. McComb, Karen, Taylor, Anna M. Wilson, Christian, Charlton, Benjamin D.  Current Biology Volume: 19 Issue: 13 (2009-07-14) ISSN: 0960-9822

 

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  • Riley0100

    I once read an article on the solicitation purr and they referred to it is a kind of purr-up. A purr that would go up at the end. But they didn’t have the scientific information. It is very interesting! I had never thought about it and then listened to my cats. My Himi would definitely do that purr when she wanted my attention. Usually during the night. It did help me to understand her better. I don’t hear it much from my Maine Coons though. Maybe I am not paying good enough attention. I’ll have to change that!

  • ria

    “A” is the solicitation purr, i think. there’s a definite ‘cry’ in there. my cat does this sometimes, soo cute.

  • PsychoChick966

    My cat doesn’t do the first one… but she does coo and chirp.

  • Margaret Justice

    A sounds like Moose when he thinks it’s time for his special feeding. B sounds like Moose when his tummy is full and it’s nap time.

  • Denise

    I think Purr A sounds like the kitty wants to tell you something. Purr B sounds like the kitty is winding down for a nice, happy nap.

  • Donna Glynn

    Seems that A has a sound of urgency, while B sounds more like contentment.

    • http://www.freezertofield.com Joanne McGonagle

      Do you hear this from your cats as well?

  • Deb

    They sound quite different to me – A seems to mimic elements of a baby crying.

    • http://www.freezertofield.com Joanne McGonagle

      Yes, those clever cats.

  • Julie

    They sound the same to me

    • http://www.freezertofield.com Joanne McGonagle

      Julie, you might try again. I think the recordings might have been the same when you listened. They are different now. sorry about that.

  • katsrus

    Hard to tell but; the second one had a deeper sound to me. My cats have me wrapped around their little paws. LOL.
    Sue B

    • http://www.freezertofield.com Joanne McGonagle

      Yes, I am sure you will not be surprised to learn that ours do as well. ;)

  • Ann Richter Hickox

    Hm, they sounded the same to me :)

    • http://www.freezertofield.com Joanne McGonagle

      Ann, Maybe give it another go. I think the recordings might have been the same when you listened. I had to make some changes. sorry about that.

      • Ann Richter Hickox

        Oh geez, I hate it when I do stuff like that! I listened again, and they are totally different. I voted for A, that definitely sounds like more of an ‘active’ purr – my two do this when they want me to pay attention to them :) <3