Why Do Cats Purr?

May 12, 2017

Why do cats purr? How do cats purr? Why can't we purr? Why do cats "talk" to people, but not other cats? Why do cats sharpen their claws? Are orange cats only male? Why do cats like milk and not water? Why are some cats crazy? Can cats see color? All of your cat questions answered with Abigail Tucker, author of The Lion in the Living Room.

"Why do cats purr?" — Dimitri, 9, Inverness "How do cats purr? " — Jack, 6, Albuquerque, N.M.

"Cats purr when they force air into their throats where their vocal cords are and they cause the vocal cords to vibrate. Scientists aren't actually sure whether cats can purr on purpose whenever they want to, or whether purring is what's called subconscious, something that cats do without thinking about it.

"Cats purr when they're feeling happy but also when they're feeling sick or stressed out and purring may be a way for cats to comfort themselves.

"People have even said that the vibrations cats make in their throat may heal cat's injuries if they've sustained injuries in a fight or you know even broken bones."

— Abigail Tucker, author of The Lion in the Living Room

"Is it true that orange cats are only male and if it is, why?" — Jill, Arlington, MA

"Four out of five orange cats are male and this is because female orange cats need two special orange genes to get the orange color. They need one from their mom and one from their dad. But male cats only need one orange gene to be orange so it's much easier to be an orange boy cat than an orange girl cat."

"But there's still a lot of orange cats of both genders running around the planet. And one thing that's interesting is that in some places like Iceland orange is a more common coat color than it is in most of America. Scientists think that that's because the Vikings when they were traveling around liked orange cats a lot and they took them on their ships and distributed them in certain places where Vikings had colonies."

"There's another interesting thing about orange coat color and that's that it seems to also have certain behavioral linkages. There are certain behaviors that are associated with orange coats. Orange males are thought to be more aggressive cats than males of other colors. And they tend to do better in rural environments where they have to control a big piece of territory. But in cities where there's a lot of cats of all different colors packed into a small space these orange cats have too many fights and don't do quite as well."

— Abigail Tucker, author of The Lion in the Living Room

Listen to the full episode for more answers to your cat questions.

Read the full transcript.

Lucy, far left, 6, from Vermont, wants to know why humans can't purr. Maya, 8, Montreal, Que., wants to know why cats drink milk. Natalie, 7, Westport, N.Y., wants to know why some cats are crazy! Wade, 3, lives in Austin, Texas. He wants to know why cats sharpen their claws.
Credit Melody Bodette / VPR

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