Could Cats Have the Purrfect Therapy for Chronic Pain?
While watching a show about cats recently, one brief statement caught my attention: "Studies have found that the harmonic frequency of purring actually promotes healing." As both a cat lover and someone who has several chronic illnesses, I wanted to know more.
The Power of the Purr
It has long been assumed that a cat’s purr is an expression of contentment. However, cats also purr when they’re under stress or in pain, such as while giving birth or when they’re seriously injured. So there must be something more to their purr than just a way to convey pleasure.
Additional evidence leading researchers to think there may be healing power in a cat’s purr include:
Cats heal much faster from fractures than dogs.
90% of cats who fall from extreme heights survive, even when they have serious injuries.
Cats are far less likely to suffer from bone diseases than dogs.
Cats have fewer diseases affecting the muscles and ligaments than dogs.
Cats are less likely than dogs to have complications following surgery.
Cats have far fewer lung problems than dogs.
Purring and Chronic Pain
A 1983 study found that vibrational stimulation between 50-150 Hz relieved suffering in 82% of people suffering from acute and chronic pain. Multiple studies over the next 20 years confirmed that the use of this low-frequency therapy (vibrations between 20-140 Hz) is therapeutic for bone growth/fracture healing, pain relief/swelling reduction, wound healing, muscle growth and repair/tendon repair, mobility of joints and the relief of dyspnea (shortness of breath).
What does this have to do with a cat’s purr? In 2006, Fauna Communications did a study on cats’ purrs. They recorded the purrs of the domestic house cat, cheetah, puma, serval and ocelot. They discovered that all of the cats studied have at least five sets of strong harmonics in the 50-150 Hz range - the frequency range for therapeutic pain relief.
There is convincing evidence that the purr is a self-healing mechanism built into cats. The question remains, can the sound of a purring cat have similar healing benefits for humans? Thus far I haven’t been able to find any research that directly tests that premise.
I don’t understand enough about sound and vibrational frequencies to know whether it’s the mere sound frequency of a purring cat that has a healing effect or if it’s necessary to feel the physical vibrations as the cat purrs. Apparently Fauna Communications, the company that did the 2006 study of cat purrs, believes the sound frequencies are enough because they put together two CDs of scientifically recorded cat purrs which ensure that listeners get all of the different healing frequencies.
Even if you have a cat, convincing the cat to sit on your lap and purr for 30 minutes to an hour at a time whenever you need it is not likely to happen. So you might to try listening to a soothing recording of a cat purring as you relax or when you go to bed at night. I found a free 30-minute YouTube recording of a purring cat next to a crackling fire. Unfortunately, when I tried to listen to it, the purring cat sent my little dog into a barking frenzy. I guess the only way I’ll be able to try this is with earphones.
If you try the recording or have any stories of how a purring cat has helped reduce your pain, please share your experience with us.
Lundeberg TC. "Vibratory stimulation for the alleviation of chronic pain." Acta Physiol Scand Suppl. 1983;523:1-51.
von Muggenthaler E. "The felid purr: A bio-mechanical healing mechanism." Presented September 20, 2006.
Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.