This Music Calms Cats the Best, Study Finds

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Gray cat sleeping on a white sheet

Alexander Possingham / Unsplash

Researchers tested the calming effect of music for kitties during vet visits; 'cat-specific' music was the winner.

The last time we took our cat to the vet, I literally thought he was going to have a heart attack. Tough guy is king of the savannah at home, but once in his carrier and headed to the place with the scary people in scrubs, he was a panting, hissing, mewling mess. Poor kitty. And I didn't envy the vet who had to wrestle with the freaked-out mini tiger either.

But after reading about a new study from Louisiana State University (LSU), I think I have a gameplan for the next time: We are going to play him some relaxing cat music.

It's no secret that music works magic on humans. Anyone familiar with Dr. Oliver Sacks and his exploration of the power of music knows this. Actually, anyone who has listened to music and felt its power knows this!

Indeed, a growing body of evidence has led to the popularity of using music in human medicine. Research has shown it to be efficacious in everything from improving motor and cognitive function in stroke patients to reducing anxiety associated with medical examinations, diagnostic procedures, and surgery.

Along these same lines, researchers previously have found that during general anaesthesia, cats remain physiologically responsive to music; and beyond that, classical music was found to be more soothing than pop or heavy metal.

Enter cat-specific music

The LSU study went in a slightly different direction and decided to investigate the effect of music specifically created for cats. (There are people out there making music for cats = faith in humanity restored.)

The authors describe cat music as being comprised of "melodic lines based on affiliative vocalizations and rewarding sounds. These melodies are interpreted as more likely to be effective if the goal is to calm an agitated cat. The thought and musical design behind composing cat-specific music was based on the idea that the development of the emotional centers in the brain of the cat occur shortly after birth, during the nursing stage. Because purring and suckling sounds are common in this developmental stage, these sounds are layered into tempos and frequencies used in feline vocalization to create cat specific music."

To see if cat music would work to calm cats at the vet's office, they experimented with 20 cats who enrolled in the study. The felines were played 20 minutes of Scooter Bere's Aria by David Teie, classical music, or no music at all in random order at each of three physical examinations at the veterinary clinic, two weeks apart.

This is the cat music. (Is it weird if it makes humans calmer too? Asking for a friend.)

As evidenced by lower cat stress scores and handling scale scores, the researchers claim that the cats appeared to be less stressed during the exams when played the cat-specific music, compared with both classical music and silence.

The examination period, they write, showed "significantly lower CSSs [cat stress scores] when cats listened to cat music compared with listening to silence or classical music," write the authors. They conclude of their findings,

"... that cats respond more positively to music made specifically for them and suggest that tranquil behaviors can be achieved in a veterinary clinical setting with the introduction of cat-specific music. Our results also suggest that this would not be the case for classical music or silence."

We have heard of all kinds of ways people try to quell the nerves of anxious cats traveling to the vet, from special pheromone sprays to Ativan and Xanax. Forget that, try some nice soothing cat music – complete with purring and suckling sounds! – and chances are you may even feel a bit more relaxed as well.

The study, Effects of music on behavior and physiological stress response of domestic cats in a veterinary clinic, was published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.