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The Sound of Smokey - the cat with the world’s loudest purr?

April 2011

Cats are almost literally born to purr. Kittens start doing it when they are just two days old. The purr comes from when muscles in a cat’s voice box tighten and start vibrating, creating a sound which both humans and cats seem to enjoy. Anyone who has lived with a cat knows that every one of these little bundles of fur has a very individual personality, so the discovery that some cats purr louder than others is no surprise. But how loud is the loudest purr?

The challenger for the record is Smokey, a 12 year old cat from the United Kingdom. Smokey, whose pale grey coat probably inspired her name, lives with the Adams family near Northampton, where she was adopted from a rescue shelter. Smokey is evidently happy in her new home - so happy that she purrs a lot, and when Smokey purrs it is sometimes difficult for the humans in the house to make a phone call or watch TV.

It's a very loud purr - roughly 16 times louder than the average feline. Think of something at the volume of a hair-dryer or a lawnmower and you are in 60-70 decibel territory. Smokey hits that sound level when being petted, or sometimes for no reason at all that her humans can tell. No-one is sure whether cats can’t help purring when in the mood, or whether they do it deliberately, for example as a way of persuading a human to open more cat food. Either way, as Mrs Adams admitted in an interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph, there are times that she wishes Smokey would shut up. But her daughter, for whom the couple obtained the cat, thinks the purring, like everything else about Smokey, is just adorable.

To find whether Smokey is a loud purrer or a record breaker, the family contacted the sound specialists at Northampton College. Mrs Adams was looking to see if she could borrow some sound measuring equipment so that she had an exact volume measurement to send to the Guinness Book of Records. However, the college was so intrigued by the request that they sent not only the equipment but also an entire technical team.

Cats purr don't just purr because they are happy but at any time when their emotions are heightened. An angry or frustrated cat may also purr (as some startled humans have discovered several seconds after they should have stopped stroking a purring cat). However, it was agreed that for Smokey to give her best, it should be while she was happy and relaxed in a home environment. This took some doing, as Smokey is a rather shy cat who was uneasy about her home getting invaded by strangers. (Some media companies have reported that the Adams clan are coming around to Smokey’s viewpoint; their pet has attracted a lot of attention worldwide. A Canadian Broadcasting Company request for an interview got short shrift.)

It is now for the judges to decide if Smokey’s purr will be included in the Guinness book of records. A human female screaming at the top of her lungs can manage 128 decibels, so when Smokey’s purr is at the 73 decibels which she reached in her recording session, this is truly remarkable -something resembling the sound of a 747 jet heard from a mile away.

Smokey puts so much effort into her purr that she sometimes breaks down coughing because her throat has become dry. This may account for the somewhat ‘dove-like’ sound that some reporters say they have heard in some of Smokey’s media appearances since the recording was made. You can judge for yourself from this YouTube video:

Find out more about why and how cats purr in this article

The latest news: It is now official. As of May 5th 2011, Smokey has earned a place in the Guinness World Records. With 67.7 decibels, Guinness says, she has the loudest purr by a domestic cat.


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