Recently, a reader sent me a copy of a YouTube video of a baby squirrel that started to purr after it was placed with a new litter of kittens. The new momma cat allowed the baby to feed with her brood and soon, it began purring right along with the rest.
It makes me wonder why cats (and the occasional squirrel) purr. Is it pleasure as most believe, or is something else going on here?
According to online pet specialists Doctors Foster and Smith, purring may express a cat’s feeling of well-being. In the case of the purring squirrel, just as its litter mates did, the squirrel could have been telling the mother cat that “all is well.”
Older cats purr when they want to signal that they are friendly and want to play.
But they also purr when they are frightened, sick or injured. The sound is one of several methods of communication cats use to convey needs and moods.
If you watch your cat carefully, you can read the other ways it tries to convey messages through squinting, slow blinking, stretching, scratching, facial rubbing and spraying. You can then try to determine what the cat is communicating.
For some reason, many cats will stop purring if they hear the sound of running water. This is why your veterinarian may turn on a faucet in an attempt to get your cat to stop purring so he or she can hear what is going on inside the cat’s body during an exam.
There are plenty of other commonly held beliefs about animals. Superstitions, myths, old tales and mistaken beliefs about animals have been passed down since humans began to question our relationships with them. Some are urban legends and some are downright laughable to our sophisticated minds. But I’m willing to bet there are plenty of people still spreading “old wives’ tales.”
AnimalsGuru.com provided these explanations for superstitions and animal myths. Some of the more smart-alecky asides are from yours truly.
• Cutting off a cat’s whiskers causes a loss of balance: A cat’s whiskers have absolutely nothing to do with its sense of balance.
• Cats have nine lives: This myth probably dates back to ancient Egypt, where nine was considered a mystical number. God Alum-Ka was believed to take the form of a cat when he came back from the underworld.
• Cats can be served a lone diet of tuna: Don’t do it. High levels of magnesium in tuna can increase urinary tract disease.
• Cats always land safely on their feet: Although cats are amazingly flexible, a cat can be injured in a fall. They have been known to break their front legs and jaws if they land on their feet.
• Cats can steal a baby’s breath: As comfort and heat seekers, cats have been known to curl up next to a baby’s warm body. This superstition probably started when a cat smelled the milk on the baby and got close to its mouth. Still, it’s a good idea to keep cats out of a very young baby’s room at nap time.
• Pregnant women should give up their cats: While toxoplasmosis is a risk for fetuses, a woman is more likely to get it from digging in a garden or handling raw meat. Still, pregnancy is a good excuse for assigning litter box chores to someone else.
• Black cats are bad luck: This myth dates back to pagan times. Silly, silly, silly.
• Cats hate water: Just like anything else, a cat (or dog or hamster or anything else that doesn’t live in the water) is skeptical of new things. Acclimate the animal to bathing by making it an enjoyable experience (which initially will require a favorite treat) and slowly progress until the animal is no longer afraid. If they hated water, cats wouldn’t drink it or sit by a dripping tap for hours batting at the droplets.
• Cats are nocturnal: Just because your favorite feline wakes you at 4 a.m. doesn’t mean they are nocturnal. It’s in a cat’s nature to hunt in the early morning and at dusk when prey is abundant. Although they have great vision, cats need only one-sixth of the amount of light humans need to decipher shapes. They do not see in the dark. The cat standing on your chest demanding your attention is telling you to get up and feed it before it goes back to bed for its next nap. Too bad you won’t be able to.
• All male cats are orange-red in color, and all female cats are calico: While this is usually true, it isn’t always. Sometimes the genes for these colors sneak in and surprise you with a new litter of kittens. Get your animal spayed or neutered, and it won’t be a problem.