Cats purrfect the art of getting what they want: study

Cats coax their owners into giving them what they want with a special purr that blends their normal soft, low sound with a high-pitched element that is hard to ignore, researchers said on Tuesday.

The high-frequency element is similar to a cry or a meow, and cats incorporate this into their normal, contended purr to exploit the nurturing instincts of humans for their own needs -- usually to get fed, according to scientists.

Lead author Dr Karen McComb of Sussex University said she initiated the study after being repeatedly woken up in the mornings by her own cat, Pepo.

"I wondered why this purring sounded so annoying and was so difficult to ignore. Talking with other cat owners, I found that some of them -- including co-author Anna Taylor -- also had cats who showed similar behaviour," she said.

McComb and her team tested human responses to different purring types, including "solicitation" purrs -- which included the high-frequency element and were made by hungry cats -- against "non-solicitation" or normal purrs.

"When humans were played purrs recorded while cats were actively seeking food at equal volume to purrs recorded in non-solicitation contexts, even those with no experience of cats judged the ?solicitation? purrs to be more urgent and less pleasant," she said.

When the team re-synthesised the purrs to remove the embedded cry, the urgency ratings decreased significantly.

McComb concluded that the cats were using the special purr to make their views known without risking irritating humans with an overt meow.

However, this solution appears only to work in cats living one-on-one with their owners -- cats in large households usually have to meow to be heard.

REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes