One of the most pleasant sounds for a cat lover is the purring of their feline friend when they receive a little scratch behind the ears. However, how cats produce their purrs has long been a mystery. A new international study may finally have the answer. According to scientists reported today in Current Biology, domestic cats possess “pads” embedded in their vocal cords that add an extra layer of fatty tissue, allowing them to vibrate at low frequencies.

Furthermore, the larynx of these animals does not seem to require any input from the brain to produce these purrs. “Purring has always had a complex and non-scientific explanation,” said Bonnie Beaver, a veterinarian at Texas A&M University who was not involved in the study. “Non-scientific because, although scientists have developed various theories to solve the mystery, few have been tested,” Beaver continued.

“The new study is a step forward,” Beaver added. Domestic cats are small, with most weighing around 4.5 kilograms, and researchers have wondered how these animals can generate low-frequency vocalizations, typically between 20 and 30 hertz, involved in purring.

Such frequencies are usually observed only in much larger animals, such as elephants, which have much longer vocal cords. While large felines like lions and tigers are capable of emitting loud roars.

Most mammalian vocalizations, including other cat sounds like meowing and hissing, are produced in a similar way: a signal from the brain causes the vocal cords to press against each other, and the flow of air through the larynx causes the cords to collide hundreds of times per second, producing sound.

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