Music is universal – few people can’t be moved by a beautiful sonnet or a symphony. Music can make us happy, introspective, buoyant. Different types of music inspire different feelings in the listener; this isn’t exactly news. But what about animals, like our own cats and dogs? Does music affect them in the same way as they do humans? And do different types of music create different responses in them, like how for example, grunge music makes people anxious and classical music calms them?
Music to calm kennel dogs
Music has an important role to play in the well-being of kennel dogs. An animal shelter is an incredibly stressful place for dogs and this shows – dogs in cages can act pretty restless. This is especially troubling because it can affect their chances of getting adopted – a more calm-looking animal has higher chances of being adopted out than an unfriendly animal on edge.
If music can have the same calming effect on dogs as it does on humans, it could be used to keep them from displaying stress-induced behavior. Until recently it was news to me that commercial music for calming dogs existed. But what does science have to say about the effect of music on animals?
Classical music relaxing to dogs
In a study from 2002, researchers played classical music to dogs in kennels. They found that these dogs spent more time resting and less time barking than dogs when no music was present. Another study from 2012 also found that classical instrumental music calms dogs. In fact, classical music performed better at calming dogs than other music types in the experiment – heavy metal, and music designed specifically dogs. As a fun fact, commercial dog music have little proven track record in relaxing dogs.
Surprising study on Audio-books
So, is classical music the best way to calm your dog? Apparently not, and this came as a surprise to me. Audio-books beat out classical music in a study from 2016. In this study, researchers from Hartpury College, UK, played different types of audio to kenneled dogs. These included among classical, pop music and commercial dog music audio-books! They then recorded the changes in behavior of the dogs through out the day.
And the results? Audio books came out on top in avoiding negative behavior such as pacing and standing, and promoting “more positive” behavior like resting among all the dogs tested. Classical music was a close second, consistent with past research studies.
And which type of music do you think performed the worst? Commercial dog music! This doesn’t mean all commercial dog music out there is bogus, just that the composition used in the study didn’t do much for the dogs that participated in the study.
Conclusion: your dog may benefit more from listening to whatever book you have in your audible playlist than any other type of music. The audio-book used in the experiment was ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ performed by Michael York.
So that’s for dogs. What about man’s second best friend, the house cat? Are they also better off listening to audio-books? Prior research has shown cats are more or less indifferent to human music. This probably makes sense. As we know, different animals use different frequencies for communication and so their ears are sensitive to different frequency ranges. So, it’s natural that animals don’t all react the same way to the same type of music. In fact, in different studies, gibbons and baboons showed no reaction to ‘human’ music. So what about cats?
Cats are sensitive to high frequencies
Cat vocalizations except purring typically happen at a higher frequency than humans. Research shows that music containing frequencies that are not in the typical listening range of an animal will not have major effects on that animal. So, in a 2016 study scientists developed music especially for cats that contain frequencies that are more interesting to cats. The average pitch of cat music was 1.34kHz, two times higher than music pitch in humans.
Music specifically composed for cats
However, the music wasn’t simply cat vocalizations like purring added on top of usual musical compositions. It was composed from the ground up by incorporating musical elements that are beneficial the listener, elements like consonant harmonies and pure tones. The music also included specific effects that are interesting to cats, like ‘sliding frequencies’. Cats use sliding frequencies in their own calls.
Cats loved cat music
The music was then played to 41 different domestic cats in their homes. Cats were prompt to react to cat music rather than human music. They were found to be more relaxed, and displayed friendly behavior, like rubbing up against objects when they were played cat music. Curiously, young or senior cats were more receptive to this type of music, while adult cats showed little interest. However, they were all unanimously indifferent to ‘human music’.
I downloaded some samples of cat music and played them to my own cat. The song I played was Maurice’s melody. As soon as I pressed play she pricked her ears. Maybe the slow droning purr in the sound attracted her. The interest seemed to wane after. But on the second day, she voluntarily came out of her hiding and lay next to the speaker.
Now on to the other domesticated animals from the farm. Country music has a bad rap among most people. Let’s just say, it’s not considered sophisticated. Nevertheless, farm animals like cattle, ponies and hen showed positive responses when played country music. For example, researchers from Purdue university found cattle entered milking parlors more readily when they were played country music, as opposed to no music.
Benefits for senior pets
So, how can we use this research to the benefit of our animal companions? One immediate benefit I can think of is to use music to help our pets feel less lonely in our absence from home. Next time you leave your dog or cat alone, why not leave the TV or the radio on? Maybe the effect of audio-books also works for radio shows. The same could be true when you’re taking your pet out for a check-up. Traveling in a car can be stressful for pets, especially cats and playing music may relax them. Keeping cats stress-free can also help fight recurring conditions like FLUTD.