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Ask the Expert: Why Do Cats Purr? and Do Pets Know Their Names?

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Do pets know their names?
Most pets do, but whether they choose to acknowledge them is something else. Birds, for example, easily learn their names, but only respond when they want to, much as cats do. Dr. Nicky Finch, a professor at the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital and an expert in “exotic” pets, knew a goldfish who would not only respond to his name, but would allow himself to be picked out of the water for a nuzzle when called. Rats and rabbits also learn and respond to their names when they are used frequently by their owners and are paired with the promise of treats. One reason most pets don’t seem to acknowledge their names is that owners don’t use them as often as they do with dogs.

Why do cats purr?
Purring is a miracle of nature — it’s a sound that both creates and conveys comfort. Cats purr when happy, of course, but also when injured, giving birth, or even dying. Yours might purr when he’s with a friend, or when he needs one. Some evidence shows that purring helps a sick cat heal faster. Then there’s the relaxation factor. Purring not only helps your feline chill out, but it can do the same for you. Have you ever noticed how relaxed you feel while petting your purring cat? Studies show that it lowers your blood pressure. Interestingly, all of the smaller members of the cat family like ocelots and servals purr, but some of the bigger cats can’t. As you know, lions, for example, can do other vocalizations, including rumbling and roaring. (I’d like to see your cat try that.) No one can yet explain the exact mechanics of how a cat purrs, but it could have something to do with air passing over certain structures in its voice box. Fun fact: Cats purr at the frequency of 25 vibrations per second!


For more expert advice from Dr. Marty Becker, "America's Veterinarian," and Mikkel Becker Shannon, an author and dog trainer, check out

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