In your many years perusing the internet, we can pretty much guarantee you’ve come across that meme with a keyboard-playing cat, in which an orange feline happily plays a catchy tune with a satisfied look on its face (the original video has over 52 million views, by the way). There are countless other videos involving cats and music, but for the most part it’s safe to assume all this is purely for human enjoyment. However, it does beg the question: do cats get anything positive out of listening to music themselves? Do cats like music?
Researchers sharing our cat obsession were so curious about the answer that they actually conducted several studies on the topic. What they discovered is not only super fascinating but can also improve the lives of cats everywhere — including your own. (For those who are more into dogs, we’ve got you covered in our article, Do Dogs Like Music?)
Creating Species-Specific Music
Think about the way cats are built. They have large, mobile ears that easily take in the noises around them, and they possess whiskers that can sense even the tiniest vibrations in the air (which are exactly what sounds are). Of course they’re sensitive to sounds!
A joint study conducted in 2015 by the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the University of Maryland took it upon themselves to figure out what kinds of sounds cats liked best. To do this, they took a couple things into consideration.
“We have developed a theoretical framework that hypothesizes that, in order for music to be effective with other species, it must be in the frequency range and with similar tempos to those used in natural communication by each species. We have used this framework to compose music that is species-appropriate for a few animal species,” the study outlines.
The goal was to create music from the context of a feline’s unique sensory system. For example, scientists considered the fact that in many cases humans prefer music with a beat that mimics their own heartbeat. For that reason, they incorporated a beat similar to a cat’s heartbeat in their own musical compositions. They also incorporated purring sounds, a noise cats often make when they’re happy or relaxed, and nursing sounds that could also potentially help them relax.
As is the case for human music, pitch also played a key role. Lead author of the study, Charles Snowdon, explained that cats vocalize about an octave higher than humans do, so it was important to work around their range as researchers wrote the music. Additionally, they considered the “sliding frequencies” cats produce (think “me-ow”) and incorporated that, as well.
Testing Cat Music Against Human Music
In the end, three unique songs — Cozmo’s Air, Spook’s Ditty, and Rusty’s Ballad — were written that took the above factors into consideration. Researches then tested these songs on 47 domestic cats against two human songs, Bach’s Air on a G String and Gabriel Fauré’s Elegie.
Researchers played each song after a period of silence and took notes on how the cats responded to all five. Positive response behaviors included purring and rubbing against the speaker while negative response behaviors included arched backs, hissing, and erected fur.
They concluded that the test group had a “significant preference for and interest in” the carefully composed cat music compared to the Bach and Fauré. While the cats didn’t exhibit any negative behavior throughout the study, they remained neutral during the human music but responded notably positively to the cat songs. Another interesting discovery that researchers made was that younger and older cats liked the cat music more than middle-aged felines.
So, What Does All This Mean?
In addition to being straight-up fascinating, knowing that cat-specific music can actually improve our felines’ moods is a powerful tool in any pet owner’s toolbelt. We can play the music they like during stressful times, such as when we’re away from the house, during a storm, or in the care on the way to the vet. Or we can simply play it to enrich their lives. (FYI: there’s an entire company dedicated to cat music now.)
This also is encouraging in terms of creating special music for other species. One of the study’s lead researchers, David Teie, has already created species-specific music for tamarin monkeys, and there’s now a desire — and reason — to consider making music for a host of other species, as well.
Love your curious (and musical) cat like family? Then protect them like family by enrolling them in Healthy Paws. Start by getting a free quote to help safeguard not just your special cat, but your wallet too.