Music for Cats: Does Your Cat Need His Own Tunes?

You listen to music with your cat and think that your feline friend is partial to classical music, jazz, hip-hop or the blues. Judging by the way your cat reclines on the sofa and purrs, you may decide that your cat absolutely loves your favorite tunes. The truth of the matter is that cats hear things differently than we do. Science shows that sounds we find enjoyable and sounds cats like are usually not the same. One composer has made an album called “Music for Cats” that is…well…music for cats.

Music scholar and cellist in the America’s National Symphony Orchestra, David Teie, studied sounds cats like and developed an album of cat music.  This album caught the attention of record producers, and Universal Music released it. The music replicates some common feline sounds such as purring, heartbeats as well as noises that would captivate cats, such as birds chirping. The album’s release was attended by 15 cats in Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in Shoreditch, London. While falling asleep at regular concerts may be hardly a sign of approval, the composer was gratified to see that many of the cats who attended fell right to sleep.  Mr. Teie said that he was glad to see so many cats respond this way because the sounds were supposed to soothe the cats and to be on their wavelength. The music featured sympathetic sounds such as the sound of kittens sucking milk and purring as well as the kind of sounds kittens hear their mothers make. Teie used plenty of cello for the compositions because he said just as the violin is meant to create a similar sensation as a woman’s voice, the cello can replicate feline sounds.

This album features music that is meant to calm cats down and relax them. When asked if he has some dance track tracks in mind for cats he said the kind of music that would get cats moving would be difficult to produce because it’s hard to find speakers to handle tones that are high-pitched enough. However, Mr. Teie is not deterred and is working on speakers that can handle those wavelengths as well as compositions that are meant to imitate the sound of mice and excite cats.

“Music for Cats” received many rave reviews from cat owners. However, it takes a cat expert to know whether the verdict is positive or not. The University of Wisconsin published a study that revealed 70% of the cats they tested enjoyed the music, particularly compared to music designed for humans.

Mr. Teie’s “Music for Cats” began with a dream and a Kickstarter campaign that raised $200,000. The album has sold over 10,000 copies and the number of sales continues to grow. Now that the market has been tapped for feline music, it is likely that there will be many more recordings available for feline audiences. Mr. Teie, who hails from the University of Maryland, loves animals, although he confesses he’s allergic the cats. He insists that while the idea of music for animals might seem whimsical, he is absolutely serious in his pursuit of creating music for species other than humans. He said that one of the biggest challenges with the project is the snicker that people make when they hear about it, and he feels some annoyance at the fact that some people regard the project as frivolous. Instead of the pursuit being silly, Mr. Teie thinks it is silly to believe that only one species in the world appreciates music.

His experiments first began with creating and testing music for cotton-top tamarin monkeys. Music was created to imitate the sound the monkeys made when they were contented and relaxed. This music was shown to have a sedative effect on the monkeys when it was played back to them. They also tested the same monkeys with human music and found that they were largely indifferent to our tunes. Then the monkeys were presented with music that imitated their calls when they are irritable and upset, and the music agitated them. This successful experiment showed that animals respond to music that is created to imitate sounds made in their environments. Just as monkeys communicate with each other through calls and cats communicate to purrs, music can speak to animals by imitating the sounds they are intimately familiar with. The selection for humans included Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” “The Fragile” by 9 Inch Nails, and other selections, but the monkeys did not respond to most of the music designed for humans. The one band that the monkeys liked was Metallica, which had a calming effect on them. This research has caused people to revise their thesis on the effectiveness of playing music to animals in order to soothe them. One could conclude from this study that animals need their own music rather than having human music played to them.

Following the successful results with the monkey music, Mr. Teie decided to move on to cats. He chose cats over dogs because there are so many differences in dog breeds that the terrier might react to one kind of song and Labrador might be indifferent to it and prefer another. In addition, the barks of some dogs sound different than the barks made by other breeds. Teie’s music was composed, developed and tested on cats and was found to be particularly effective on cats that have some neurosis or a history of abuse by humans. In these cats, the music had a sedative effect.

When Mr. Teie’s Kickstarter campaign brought in close to a quarter a million dollars, the concept caught the attention of Universal Studios. The composer went through a range of emotions while creating the work. At first, there was excitement then skepticism then concerns if it would be well received. With success has come satisfaction. Universal expects this to be just the beginning of a major trend of music for animals. Mr Teie told The Guardian, “I hope 100 years from now people will have to be taught that music was once only for humans.”

The album “Music for Cats” has captured the imagination of cat fanciers and music lovers around the globe. The album contains singles such as “Lolo’s Air”, “ Katey Moss Catwalk” and “Tigerlili and Mimi’s Mewsical.”  The album has five original compositions lasting around 10 minutes. Customers on Amazon discussed how they felt about the music and how their cats reacted to it. Some owners said that the music was a great way to get their cats to relax and that they enjoyed it as much as their feline friends. One owner claims that the music helped turn his cat around and might have played a role in his feline friend mending his ways.

He said that before “Music for Cats” came into his pet’s life, the cat would be out all hours of the night with his wild, feral friends and sometimes would bring home a dead bird. Once the worried owners found several bags of catnip in the cat’s bed. All of this changed with “Music for Cats,” which calmed the kitty down and helped him become less wild. One owner was ecstatic and declared that “Music for Cats” was the best album she had ever purchased. She was distressed that her cat never seemed to sleep and was restless and nervous. Once she put on the music, she noticed the cat’s ears were twitching and it was looking around the room to try to find the source of the melodies. The cat then went to lay down beside the speakers purred gently and went to sleep. Owners of nervous cats seemed particularly grateful for the music, which was finally the tonic that helped soothe the savage beast.

Some owners said that the cats did not seem to be visibly changed by the music, but that was no indication that they were unhappy with it. Some owners said that their cats enjoyed it very much but they couldn’t stand the music because they found it too strange. Others reported that the music helped soothe cats who had been through trauma, such as the death of a companion cat.  Once the music was turned on, the cats suddenly calmed down.

It’s nearly impossible to be like Dr. Doolittle and talk to the animals to find out how cats really feel about “Music for Cats,” but the wordless response seems to be positive. The only way to get a review from the cat is to observe its behavior. One black cat called Indy is an outdoor feline who doesn’t usually respond to human music. After two tracks, Indy showed expressions of pleasure by curling up and purring. However, some cats showed no reaction at all to the music and went about their ordinary activity. When you think about it, many humans continue doing the dishes or walking around the house even though they may enjoy a piece of music very much, so the fact that the felines continued their activity might not have been any indication of indifference towards the music. Some people who purchased the album have said that their cats nuzzle up to the speaker and curl up in front of it. “Music for Cats” may mark the beginning of a general trend towards music for animals.

But why do cats have different musical tastes than we do and why do they respond to sounds differently? According to a study in Applied Animal Behavior Science Journal, animals enjoy species-specific music rather than that designed for humans. Tests showed, again and again, cats responding to music created with feline sympathetic sounds. The science behind the species-specific music is that the music must have a frequency range and tempos similar to those used by the particular species when members want to communicates with others. This shows that nonhuman animals treat sounds and music as a form of communication. If the sound does not have the same quality as that they use for communication, it doesn’t seem to have an effect on them.

For the study, music for cats was created by studying the natural vocalizations of cats and matching the music to a similar frequency range, which is around an octave or higher than the human voice. Drums were used to mimic heartbeats and the music had sliding tones to imitate the fact that cats use sliding notes when they may make sounds. The study tested music on 47 domestic cats, and they were played the music specially designed for cats along with human music such as Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air on a G String” and Gabriel Faure’s “Elegie.” The cats responded much more positively to the species-specific music than the other varieties, especially those who had undergone trauma or at been feral cats. Given its calming properties, feline-specific music can be used in animal shelters to help calm cats down as well as boarding areas and veterinary clinics.

But why is it that so many people are convinced that their cats enjoy Mozart, Bach, Lady Gaga or Duke Ellington? The answer lies in the fact that human beings often like to project themselves and their tastes on those in their surroundings.  A dog or cat is not able to argue over aesthetic tastes and therefore it is relatively easy to project our own interests our furry friends. Just as some people project their tastes for everything from a certain kind of cuisine to a favorite vacation spot and music on spouses and children, so they tend to do so with their pets, although in the case of animals, it’s without protest.

These studies should also make it unnecessary for pet owners to feel they need to play their music to their animals all day long to keep them calm when they cannot be at home since it isn’t likely to have an effect. Now that there is music designed particularly for cats, cat owners will have melodies available for their pets that they will actually enjoy and respond to. There is no doubt that there will be additional records for cats and other animals to expand the species-specific music repertoire.

For dog lovers, the development of species-specific music can be more of a challenge. One of the keys to developing music for animals is that it should be comprised of the noises they make and the rhythms with which they live. Since there is such a wide variation between the sounds and the rhythms of small dogs and large dogs, dogs may need breed-specific music rather than species-specific music. In addition, studies show that dogs show more reaction to human music than cats do. In fact, according to a study at Queens University Belfast, dogs were shown to respond to different genres of human music. They relaxed when classical music was played and seemed restless when hard rock was being blasted.

With a wide range of responses to the animal music, it is notable that some cats seem to respond gratefully the music whereas others hardly seem to notice it. Humans may always enjoy music differently than animals because humans have one thing that most animals lack, which is the concept of relative pitch. Human beings are able to tell that successive notes are the same whether they are sharp or flat. Animals are unable to distinguish different keys and the relation of the notes to each other. It is this concept of relative pitch that makes music engaging and stimulates brain activity. This is why more complex music such as jazz and classical can be engrossing in the way that simple pop songs may not be.

“Music for Cats” seems to be a logical development with the increase in accessories for pets that make them seem more like part of the family rather than simply animals who live in our house. Owners who consume organic food may demand the same for their pets, for instance, so it makes sense that people will want special music for their cats rather than imposing their own musical tastes on their furry friend. With a growing trend towards various types of therapy for cats, music can be a therapeutic way of treating cats that have lived traumatic childhoods on the street and were separated from their mothers too early. The comforting heartbeats and purring sounds remind them of the kind of bonding they missed from their mother.

In addition, research has elicited the sobering realization that cats are actually annoyed by human music and that our attempts to calm them down by playing Mozart are mainly futile if not counterproductive. While we have the right to enjoy our own music, there is an awareness that what we find relaxing may not necessarily be enjoyable for our pets. One way to tell whether cats like music is if they rub their heads against the speaker. Cats have scent glands along their tails and the side of her heads, and when they rub their tail or head against something, it means they are marking it and claiming it as their own. In repeated studies, cats rubbed their heads against speakers playing species-specific music, and almost none of the 47 cats tested did this with the classical music.

The fact that cats enjoy different kinds of music than humans is attributed to different communication styles, vocalizations and the way they hear things. A cat’s hearing is more delicate than a human’s and they can hear very quiet, high pitched sounds. The threshold for low noises is very similar to that of a human, at 30 cycles per second. However, when it comes to high-frequency, human beings hear 20,000 Hz and cats hear 65,000 Hz, which is two octaves higher than what we are able to hear.

Cats have the ability to hear high-pitched notes because it is necessary for their survival, and they are able to hear the squeal of a small mouse or the high-pitched mews of their young. This is one reason why cats may respond more quickly to children and women rather than men, because of the higher pitch of their voices, and not because of gender and age distinction.  Cat ears are shaped differently than ours and allow the cat to hear five times farther away than we can. In fact, cat ears can be compared to a kind of satellite dish that swivels and rotates 180 degrees. You may notice a cat by twisting his ears in the direction of a sound that is the most interesting to him. This enhanced hearing enables a cat to stalk prey easily and to find their young.

Cats not only hear high-pitched noises from far away but are able to accurately locate the source of noises. Cats have complex brains that allow them to detect any kind of time delay in order to more effectively pinpoint the exact location of a sound source. The cat will also be able to determine what kind prey is making the noise.

If you think your cat enjoys your favorite music, you’re not alone. Many other cat owners believe this as well. That doesn’t mean that is true, it just means that is very common for us to believe that our pets share our tastes and things. The truth is that studies show cats enjoy their own music that is designed for their particular associations, communication style and the frequency at which they hear sounds most effectively. “Music for Cats” has topped the charts on Amazon and is just the beginning of more music for cats and other animals. It has long been believed that the appreciation of music was reserved only for human beings, but repeated experiments show that cats respond to music that is directly created for them with heartbeats, purring noises and other relaxing features from their world. It’s not surprising that a number of music projects for animals have been launched and the repertoire has expanded for cats and other species. Try playing “Music for Cats” and seeing if you also enjoy the exquisite sounds that relax and please your feline friend.

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