2000 Purr, a Space Odyssey

by chelsea schuyler

Once again, it’s all about space.  Space cats.  Thunder cats had it all wrong (but oh so right, …I digress).

So I was thinking the other day, I says to myself I says: “how could purring possibly have evolved? What would have selected for such a complicated, albeit endearing, form of expression?” And self was all:

Yes, cats use purring to express contentment, but  it turns out that cats purr during births, injuries, and severe distress as well as when blissed out.


Not just domestic cats purr by the way, any feline that doesn’t roar can purr. Cheetahs, cougars, ocelots, servals, and caracals can all do it, and some have evolved it independently. So what’s the big advantage?

Meanwhile, IN SPACE, astronauts muse that though they have the coolest job, they suffer a high price, mainly, bone density loss. And vomit that floats around. Anyway, because Neil Armstrong, et al have no gravity to demand simple resistance exercises like standing and walking, their muscles fall to disuse and bone density decreases. They’ve made specialized exercise machines, but i guess they aren’t working so well.  What To Do?

plus healing superpowers

Meanwhile, IN CATS, we’re noticing how ridiculously well cats heal themselves. Over 90% of 132 cats survived 5.5 story falls from apartments (point 5? damn you mezzanine!). Skin grafts and surgery recovery are extremely successful and speedy. Cats are healthier than dogs, they never seem to suffer from dysplasia or luxating patellas or other bone badnesses (bad to the). (Granted humans have been more obsessive about selecting for horrendous skeletal structures in dogs, see bulldogs, dachshunds, german shepherds, etc but even so, the statistics are impressive.) Why they so lucky?

Enter the scientists! Specifically Dr. Clinton Rubin, who put it together that healing and bone mass are both stimulated by vibration, and what do you know, purring in cats happens to fall within 25-140 Hz (Hz = Hertz = cycles per second) which is proven to be physically therapeutic. Most cat species have the perfect harmonics in their purr to contribute to pain relief and tendon repair.

But how do you prove that it’s the purring specifically helping the cats out? You can’t take the purr out of the cat to see what happens cuz it’s all related to the diaphragm n stuff, and the trauma to the animal would automatically disqualify your observations.  and reserve your spot in hell.

Enter the…chickens?  Apparently you don’t take the purr away, you give it to something else.  Dr. Rubin stuck a bunch of chickens on a vibration plate for 20 minutes and then measured their bone strength.

yes! though a turkey stands in for a chicken, this is actually Dr. Rubin. you have no idea how excited I was to find this picture. I think i just anabolized 2% more bone density

Yep. Science ladies and gentlemen. Best. Subject. Ever. I wish someone would explain to me why chickens were the obvious choice for this exercise, though the hilarity of chickens bouncing around like popcorn in a box cannot be denied. (Of course the vibrations weren’t that strong, barely even visible).

10 minutes a day

And I don’t see how a plate is more accurate than strapping a cat to each chicken, but I suppose they knew what they were doing.

The experiment was repeated on rabbits (um, thank you, way more sense. Low to the ground, quiet, sane, mammals) and their bone strength increased 20%.

only rats. not a far cry really...

Then the rats came in, and things got really creative. They had three groups.  Group 1 was prevented from using their back legs during the day. (i’m picturing those paralyzed dogs they attach little wheelchairs to. I so hope that’s how they did it, I would totally take a picture and put it on facebook)

Group 2 the same, except for 10 minutes each day they were allowed to walk around normally. Group 3 same, except they had 10 minutes of vibration therapy instead of exercise.  Results?

Group 1 (no nuthin never) – 91% bone formation loss.
Group 2 (10 min  exercise) – 62% bone formation loss.
Group 3 (10 min good vibrations)– almost no loss whatsoever.

Remember these? Actually making you big boned! The irony!

This is all still controversial (you say one thing about chickens on vibrators and astronauts get all raised-eyebrow), but it could be that we can save those poor orphaned astronauts from breaking their legs upon re-entry to Earth by applying purr technology. And you thought it was just a small step for man….Sources: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast02nov_1/



  1. So then cuddling with cats can actually make you stronger! Awesome, well at least make your ribs and crotch, er lap, stronger. I was going to link ‘Thunder Cats Trailer Fan Made’ but I see it attaches the movie box and not just the link so I’ll let you look it up for yourself, pretty fun.

    Makes you wonder why they chose chickens, but I’m glad they did!


  2. Of COURSE you actually did this with your cat. No surprises there, really. And naturally it was all in the name of SCIENCE (and, apparently, LITERATURE). If you want Zenza to write something really good though you’ll have to start dropping her from higher up–or would that just make it a longer work? If you drop her from 6 inches over and over again would you get an anthology of short stories? I need to know the answer.


  3. I’ve heard cats falling from heights less than 7 stories don’t have enough time to react and right themselves, therefore more injuries. But cats falling from heights heigher than this, I assume there is a limit, have a greater chance of non-injury.


    • 7 stories is a long time. I’m pretty sure cats can right themselves just from you dropping them from an upside down position from 5 feet off the ground (standing height). …yep, just did it with Kitu (on the couch so he wouldn’t get hurt if he missed) and he was able to right himself. And he’s not exactly the sharpest tack, so you know the others can do it. I’ll show you the next time you come over. ….just dropped Zenza from the roof, and she wrote a Russian romance novel. It’s pretty good, but i’ve read better. Also, being able to right yourself doesn’t mean less injury. You can land standing up and your tibia shoots through your esophagus. Bone damage no matter what. It’s the fact that they heal and survive (and so quickly) that makes them so amazing. So there, dog person!



    *Nice giant cat in space picture. I really like how cats’ eyeballs look when viewed from the side. All glass bulby-like.
    *Your usage of ‘et al’. So much more erudite than the much over-hyped ‘etc.’ Good to see it’s making a comeback.
    *The phrase “Meanwhile, IN CATS”. I will be stealing this phrase shortly, most likely for a top-selling concept album or theme park ride.
    *The statistic “over 90%” in relation to a quantity of cats not evenly divisible by ten. Apparently the number of cats that survived was somewhere north of 118.8, but potentially less than 119? Impressively precise, these scienticians!

    I had never before heard of the following: servals, caracals. Are these real animals? I don’t have time to look them up on wikipedia right now so I have no idea.


    • Dibs on a copy of the concept album! (signed?)
      118.8, I know, damn you mezzanine! Chump change really, I think it just depends on how you define “survive” (see Sad Sad State of Evolution).
      Caracals and servals are bona fide African felids. The Caracal is a gorgeous and rare cat, red (which for some reason means like warm brown in the fur world), short-haired with giant ears and long black tufts at the end like floppy lynx tufts. The Serval is like a cheetah and a bat-eared fox went all brown chicken brown cow. (Red chicken, Red cow?) Both mid size cats, so they don’t get the attention the giants do.


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