As I write this I’m listening to David Teie’s Music for Cats and specifically, “Lolo’s Air” and my cat Cricket perked up, stared towards the sound, and then went promptly to sleep. I think it is generally safe to say that cats perceive music as sound, but not as music the way humans do. Harmonies and melodies as such are beyond them. By analogy, we know that cats can perceive certain colors, particularly in the green/blue world. But they can’t be taught to favor a color, in other words, if the treat is always under the green cup, and never the blue one, they won’t learn that. It’s like they are behaviorally colorblind. So cats may be musically sound blind, but still able to be calmed by some music and stressed by other music.
Are there certain sounds in the cat world that calm cats or signal a positive interaction?
We believe that cats actually appreciate silence and it is hypothesized that natural sounds like running water, the rustling of a breeze, and the tweeting of a bird may be enjoyed by them, but this hasn’t been well tested, although anecdotally it’s been observed. We know that thunder and fireworks can be very scary to cats.
Are these positive sounds similar to one another – ie do they share characteristics like a certain frequency? Does this differ from sounds that may be preserved as negative or threatening?
These sounds need to be in the comfort zone of frequencies and tempos that cats can hear, particularly when communicating with each other. Banging noises, very low frequencies and sometimes very high frequencies, and very fast tempos can be upsetting. A rustling sound may indicate something is moving and this may positively stimulate your cat. Cats need to sleep a lot and sounds that promote sleep will be helpful.
What music or sounds are made to calm cats? How do they take into consideration the positive sounds of the cat world?
The consensus is that music that is composed for cats, both in terms of frequencies and tempos needs to be in the ranges used in cat-to-cat communications. In what might be the best study on the subject, this abstract by Applied Animal Behaviour Science discusses how cats showed preference and “interest” for this type of music.
Do cats seem to enjoy music? Can it be any music or “music for cats”?
There is some anecdotal evidence that some cats are calmed by classical music, but classical music is also generally more peaceful sounding than punk rock or heavy metal. Remember they’re responding to sounds, frequencies and tempos, not to harmonies, melodies, scales or “leitmotifs” – recurrent musical themes. Perhaps we should substitute the word “noise” for “music” and discuss calming noises versus stressful noises. But if we want to play something that cats and humans will both like, then cat music is better than just playing calming sounds since humans won’t be much entertained by the sound of continuous purring and rustling leaves. As for actual music, perceiving it as music may belong in the human domain. I’ve played Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel to groups of people over and over again and asked the participants to write down what they felt, and what it evoked, and every group came up with words like water, river, rain, tears, melancholy, sad but hopeful. But those images and emotions seem human-specific.
What benefits can music have on cats – is this scientifically proven?
There is anecdotal (observational) evidence that cats are calmed by certain sounds and some small studies that show preferences, but the actual benefit has been harder to prove although there is some evidence that heart rate and respiration slow with some music.
What situations should I consider putting music on for cats – can it help on car rides? When I leave my cat alone? When I’m introducing my cat to other pets?
Any time music can mask a stressful sound then it should be considered helpful, so car rides, thunderstorms, and fireworks displays may be helpful. It can’t hurt to play it while you’re out but helpful to are youtube videos of fish and birds!
How do I know if my cat likes music?
The best responses are if a cat approaches the sound. Next best would be to go to sleep to the music. My blind-from-birth cat Jenny hates the sound made by the packing tape dispenser. The sound seems to mimic the sound of a loud hiss and her response is to complain, by whining and flicking her tail. These would not be good indicators!
Is there anything else interesting about cats and their responses to certain sounds of music that our readers should know?
The bottom line is cats seem to appreciate music, especially music that is tailored to them. Animal shelters often use it and it should be considered a valuable tool in the world of cat enrichment. If music be the food of love, play on!