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 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. But I’m willing to bet there are plenty of people still spreading “old wives tales.”
AnimalsGuru.com provided these explanations for superstitions and myths:
• Cutting off a cat’s whiskers causes a loss of balance. A cat’s whiskers have nothing to do with its sense of balance.
• 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.
• Pregnant women should give up their cats. While toxoplasmosis is a risk for fetuses, women are more likely to get it from digging in a garden or handling raw meat. Still, pregnancy is a good excuse to assign litter box chores to someone else.
• Cats are nocturnal. Just because your favorite feline wakes you at 4 a.m. doesn’t mean she is nocturnal. It’s in a cat’s nature to hunt in the early morning and at dusk when prey is abundant. Cats need one-sixth of the amount of light humans need to decipher shapes. Although they have great vision, they do not see in the dark.
• All cats that are orange-red in color are male, and all calicos are female. 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.