As many of you already know, I adore cats, the most wonderful creatures in the world. I have four cats now, two years apart in age…even though years ago I found out that I am allergic to them (just my luck!!!), which forces me to use a cortisone inhaler once a day. I don’t mind, though, it’s a small price to pay for all the joy they bring to me and Stefano (who is also probably allergic to our darlings, by the way). Our friends think we’re nuts. That may well be true, but at least we are happy nuts.
Well, after what I read this morning, I am beginning to suspect that they might be giving us more than (allergies and) joy…but let me proceed by degrees.
Priscilla, my second youngest, now 3+ years old, is our “wild” cat. I posted her story on my blog a while ago, but, in a nutshell, I found her abandoned as a tiny kitten on our street and saved her from certain death. Even though we have tamed her to some extent, she still hisses and spits and even growls (sometimes) if you try to pick her up. But she also has a very sweet affectionate side, as my parents well know (she worships them). For instance, whenever we lie down, she nestles next to us or on top of us and purrs and purrs and purrs. She loves to get under blankets (see photo). When I am sitting at my desk, she frequently gets into my lap or tries to perch on my shoulder (well, when she was a baby, she fit right on my shoulder, but now she hooks her claws into me to hold on, ouch!). Or she gets under my sweater. That is her favourite place.
Well, I am no longer going to try to discourage her sweater retreat, even though most of my turtlenecks are full of tiny claw-made holes.
The reason. A blog reader (thanks, Sue!) recently left a blog comment with a link to a page about the healing effect of a cat’s purring: http://tinyurl.com/5j95ne An extraordinary read, I must say. So I decided to have a closer look at this purring business today, even though I really should be working on my more serious piece.
We all know that pets in general (not just cats) have a soothing effect on their “owners,” in terms of reducing blood pressure etc. Indeed, some time ago I think I posted about a study in which folks who do not have cats in their lives had a much higher risk, 30-40% as I recall, of dying from heart attacks or strokes compared to cat “owners.”
At any rate, this morning I did a bit of research on PubMed and came across a few scientific studies that discussed the purring/healing phenomenon. But these studies had no abstracts and were a bit dated, so I won’t even bother asking Sherlock to retrieve them for me. However, I would like to highlight the title of a 2003 Swedish study: Purr as a cat—and avoid osteoporosis. Too bad I don’t know a word of Swedish. Still, an intriguing title, no?
I did find an article in English addressing the issue of bone healing: http://tinyurl.com/5zly2u The author writes that Consistent vibrational sound frequencies of 25-150 Hz, which is the range of a cat’s purr, aid in the healing of bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles, as well as providing pain relief. Cat lovers, please go have a peek at this article.
Another interesting titbit is that cats purr when frightened or injured or giving birth. Ah, in fact, I have noticed that all of my cats (except for Peekaboo, who is fearless), Priscilla in particular, howl but also purr when I take them to the vet. The purring never made sense until now. So, as the author points out, in addition to expressing contentment, purring must be some sort of survival strategy.
And read this: Cats’ bones heal faster and more easily after fractures than those of dogs. Veterinary medicine researchers note that 90% of cats that plummet from extraordinary heights survive despite serious injuries. There is also evidence that cats are less likely to suffer postoperative complications after surgery than dogs. This rapid healing ability may be attributable to purring. Of course, the conditional tense is used here.
Then we read that Dr. Clinton Rubin [for info on Dr. Rubin, check out: http://tinyurl.com/6yqxph, love that turkey photo, hehe] and his colleagues have discovered that sound frequencies of 20-50 Hz can increase bone density. From what I gather (but I could not find the original study), these researchers performed two tests, one on chickens, the other on rabbits. Both chickens and rabbits had stronger bones after exposure to 20-50 Hz, which also stimulated the healing of broken bones as well as the speed of bone regeneration. Healing of broken bones? Increased speed of bone generation? How much is two plus two?
And here is the clincher:
Cats are also less likely to suffer from osteosarcoma, osteoarthritis and myeloma (a tumor of the bone marrow’s plasma cells). Oh boy!
The rest of the article (the effect of purring on pain relief, tendons and muscles, etc.) is interesting, too. This morning I read online that people suffering from migraines get some relief when purring cats are placed next to their heads. Well, well. And hey, it occurs to me that my cats lie next to me or on me whenever I am ill. When I had pleurisy (and almost kicked the bucket), they were with me all the time. Now I know why. And hey, even if this purring business is an old wives’ tale, isn’t it a good one? I, for one, like to believe it’s true.
Well, heck, now I guess I am going to have to learn how to purr, perhaps while sipping a dark hoppy beer. For the moment, though, I will continue to cuddle my little tiger under my sweater as often as she wants.