By Dr. Becker
Do cats like music? Most likely, yes! But it’s unlikely to be the same type of music that you or I most enjoy. Why people (or animals) have different musical preferences remains much of a mystery.
However, it’s believed that humans tend to enjoy music that has familiar qualities in comparison to our acoustic and vocal range along with understandable tones and, perhaps, a tempo that’s similar to our heartbeats (hearing your mother’s heartbeat would have been a soothing sound when you were in the womb).
It stands to reason, then, that cats would prefer music composed of feline-centric sounds (while elephants would prefer elephant-centric sounds and so on). Musician David Teie is among those who believe in species-specific music, and he’s been working on developing such music since 2009.
Music for Cats
Teie, a seasoned cellist with the National Symphony Orchestra, has created Music for Cats, which is music specifically designed to relax, soothe and resonate with your kitty.
It was created on the premise that every species has “an intuitive biological response to sounds present in their early development.” According to Music for Cats:1
“Felines establish their sense of music through the sounds heard after they're born: bird's chirping, suckling for milk or their mother's purr.
With this premise, Teie composed Music for Cats, incorporating feline-centric sounds and their natural vocalizations and matching it to a cat’s frequency range.”
This isn’t only hearsay or theory; it’s been scientifically tested too. It turns out that animals, or at least kitties, do prefer music that’s especially for them.
Cats Prefer Species-Specific Music
It’s common to assume that if you love classical music your pet will too, but this may not be the case.
In fact, studies that have attempted to look into how music affects the behavior of animals (non-human animals, that is) have gotten conflicting results. Perhaps that’s because they should be using species-specific music, instead.
In a study published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior, the researchers hypothesized that in order for music to be effective for other species, “it must be in the frequency range and with similar tempos to those used in natural communication by each species.”2
They then composed two samples of cat music along with two comparable samples composed for humans and played them for a group of cats.
As you might suspect, the cats responded more to cat music than to human music, with the researchers concluding, “Species-appropriate music is more likely to benefit animals than human music.”3
One cat song composed by Teie is Cozmo’s Air. It includes “a pulse related to purring of 1380 beats per min[ute],” along with regular “melodic sliding frequencies.”
Such frequencies are common in cat speak, but not in human language.4 On Teie’s Music for Cats website, one person even exclaimed that his cat is “absolutely obsessed” with Cozmo’s Air.5
Music for Tamarins and Chimpanzees
It’s not only cats that seem to enjoy species-appropriate music. Tamarins, which vocalize in higher octaves than humans and also have faster heart rates, also responded to music designed for them while showing indifference to human music.6
When a fast, exciting piece of monkey music was played, the tamarins became more active. They also showed increased calm when a slower piece of tamarin music was played.
Interestingly, it was long thought that nonhuman primates did not have a preference for music. However, perhaps the studies weren’t using the right kind of songs, specifically world music.
In research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, chimpanzees showed a significant preference for African and Indian music over silence.7
Dogs Might Respond to Human Music
Because dogs vary widely in terms of size, vocal range and heart rate, designing music to appeal to a wide variety of dogs may pose some challenges. However, it’s been suggested that large dogs, which have vocal ranges similar to humans, may appreciate human music. Charles Snowdon, Ph.D., an animal psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Live Science:8
“ … [I]t is possible that they [dogs] might be responsive to music in our frequency range. My prediction is that a big dog might be more responsive to human music than a smaller dog such as a Chihuahua.”
Indeed, in one study conducted by researchers at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the researchers discovered that while classical music encouraged shelter dogs to relax and sleep more, heavy metal music caused trembling and increased stress levels in many dogs.
As more is learned about how different types of music, human or species-specific, affect animals, it can increasingly be used to reduce stress, anxiety and tension, much like it is in humans.
For now, you can gauge your dog’s reaction to music playing in your home and respond accordingly. It’s likely that he’ll be soothed by soothing music and agitated by loud music and other noise. If you’re a cat owner, you can listen to Teie’s feline-specific creations, and share them with your cat, at Music for Cats.