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Classical
Music and
Cats
Classical Music and cats -still a good idea
copyright (c) 2021 Frania Shelley-Grielen.  All rights reserved.

Classical music with its soothing melodic tones and harmonies is now more readily
accepted in pet care as being a positive for the animals that get to listen but is it
really? The answer may be “yes”, “no” and “it depends on what kind.” In addition
to being able to observe a positive impact, it makes sense that the right sort of
classical music needs to be played from the animal perspective to be effective.
Soothing music may have a universal component for all species. Factors such as
lower pitch and regular tempo are typically associated with more pleasant music
while high pitched and irregular tempo are usually perceived as disturbing.

A new study on the sort of music cats prefer by researchers, Charles T. Snowdon,
David Teie and Megan Savage addresses cat specific music by testing how well cats
respond to music created to cater to what the researchers believed the cats would
like to be listening to. Drs.’ Snowdon, Teie and Savage composed pieces of music
that were in cat frequency ranges and compared the cats’ responses to music in
human frequency range. Of course, for any of this to matter the animal in
question needs to be able to hear it. And it is with the hearing of things that most
animals aside from humans are listening at frequencies we are not aware of.
Humans hear in an approximate range of 64-23,000 hertz (which is a measurement
of the cycles per second of a particular sound wave) compared to dogs who hear in
an approximate range of 67-45,000 hertz and cats, who beat out both species,
hearing in an approximate range of 45-64,0000. When looking at the sensory
capacities of other animals it is vitally important to know that the measurements
we are working with are all educated guesswork on our parts with significantly
huge gaps missing in our knowledge. We need to remember that when we have
tried to determine the range of an animal’s hearing we cannot ask the animal
what it hears and receive a response. We never definitively know. We first train
hungry animals to respond to a sound by rewarding them with food and measure
which sounds they respond to. In fact, we cannot know what they are actually
hearing only what levels they respond to in our tests. It’s an important distinction
and a valuable one to remember in the work we do with animals.

The researchers also added in what they thought would evoke a friendly response
in the cats using purring or the sucking sounds cats make when nursing to regulate
tempo. The human music used for comparison, pieces generally perceived as
pleasing to people (Faure’s Elegie and Bach’s Air on a G String), had tempos similar
to the human resting pulse rate, which is intimated, may contribute to its relaxing
qualities. It is confusing why the researchers choose purring and sucking as tempos
to set their “cat music” to rather than cat resting pulse rate especially as the cat
music is compared to human music set to a tempo of the human resting pulse rate.
The cat’s resting pulse rate is 120-140 beats per minute as compared to a human’s
which is 60-100 beats per minute.

The researchers found the study cats responded significantly more actively and
positively to the cat music with younger cats in the study showing an even greater
response. Positive responses were listed as turning the head toward the speaker
where the music was coming from, rubbing against it, sniffing and purring.

It is also vitally important in the work we do looking at animals that we look at
behavior in contexts that are salient for the animals in question. The cat music
study here begins with positing a relevant range of what a cat can hear as a starting
point for what music might be more or less meaningful and perhaps loses focus by
mixing in tempos of sounds made during comfort behaviors, like nursing and
purring. When the cats in question respond positively to the music (again, worth
noting that more of the younger cats in question respond) it is difficult if not
impossible to parse out what the cats are in fact responding to; the tempo of the
purring or nursing sounds or the frequency or otherwise. In a separate study on
dogs, Patricia Simonet, recorded the sounds dogs make when “laughing” at play,
a particular in and out pant. Dr. Simonet then played the dog laugh recording as
background noise in various shelter environments and found similar impacts, with
results showing the shelter dogs demonstrating positive behavior responses to the
sounds.

Whether it is studying animals, working with them or living with them it is of
great importance for us to always remember that other species perceive the world
we share together in sometimes markedly different ways even as we may be
sharing the same physical spaces. Paying close attention to how our animals react
to their environments in the ways we have come to learn are positive or negative
for them continue to be the most telling for us as to how they “feel” about them.

In my own work I recommend the use of classical music, specifically classical music
found on the radio. Radio stations mostly play music for background effect, so arias
and discordant pieces are often ruled out. Radio stations also have dulcet toned
announcers softly speaking about the music, an added bonus for pets. Classical
music continues to have value for cats and other animals and this is most
demonstrated by the behaviors they present to the appropriate music. On a recent
visit to a dog daycare I found the manager listening to a classical radio station and
asked if he was playing the music to soothe the dogs. “No, “he told me “I like it but I
do notice that the dogs are much calmer when the radio is on.” The behavior tells,
we just need to be clear what it is telling.

References
Snowdon, C.T., Teie, D., Savage, M. (2015).  Cats prefer species-appropriate music.  
Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 166, 106-111.

Simonet, P., Versteeg, D., Storie, D. (2005)  Dog-laughter: Recorded playback
reduces stress related behavior in shelter dogs.
Proceedings of the 7th International
Conference on Environmental Enrichment July 31 – August 5, 2005
.

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studies show cats prefer and respond to classical music
"it is of great
importance for us to always
remember that other species
perceive the world we
share together in sometimes
markedly different ways even
as we may be sharing the same
physical spaces. Paying close
attention to how our animals
react to their environments
in the ways we have come to
learn are positive or negative
for them continue to be the most
telling for us as to how they
“feel” about them."
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Website copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
paying close attention to how cats react to their environment tells us how they feel about it
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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