Classical Music and cats -still a good idea (c) 2015-2018 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
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.
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.
"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."
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
AnimalBehaviorist.us is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC
Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed
to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising
and linking to Amazon.com.