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Scientists find ‘purrfect’ music for soothing anxious cats

Image credit: Esin Deniz | Dreamstime

Louisiana State University researchers have found that playing specially composed music can help calm the nerves of cats going through the stressful experience of visiting the vet.

The use of music has become increasingly popular in human medicine, with studies showing a range of benefits from improving motor and cognitive function in stroke patients to reducing anxiety associated with medical examinations, diagnostic procedures and surgery. The benefits of music are also being investigated in cats among other animals.

Research published previously in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (JFMS) has indicated that cats that are under general anaesthesia remain physiologically responsive to music. Furthermore, they appear to be on a more relaxed state when playing classical music, compared with pop and heavy metal.

In this latest study, the researchers based in the US have taken the analysis of the impact of different types of music a step further by investigating the calming effects of music composed specifically for cats.

According to experts in the field, musical pieces that are considered pleasing to the human ear often have a beat similar to the human resting pulse rate and contain frequencies from the human vocal range.

This principle has been extended to cat-specific music, which is composed of lines based on affiliative cat vocalisations – such as purring and suckling sounds – as well as frequencies similar to the feline vocal range, which is two octaves higher than for humans.

In order to assess the effects, 20 pet cats enrolled in the LSU study were played 20 minutes of cat-specific music (‘Scooter Bere’s Aria’ by David Teie), classical music (‘Élégie’ by Fauré) or no music (silence) in a random order at each of three physical examinations at a veterinary clinic, two weeks apart. 

Cat listening to radio

Cat listening to radio

Image credit: Image courtesy of Abi Tansley

Stress scores, based on behaviour and body posture, and handling scale scores, based on the cats’ reactions to the handler, were assigned for each of the cats from video recordings of the examinations. Neutrophil: lymphocyte ratios from blood samples were also measured to look for a physiological stress response.

The cats appeared to be less stressed during the examination – as indicated by lower cat stress scores (CSSs) and handling scale scores (HSs) – when they were subjected to cat-specific music, compared with both classical music and no music.

This effect was not reflected in neutrophil: lymphocyte ratio, but the researchers suggest in their study that 20 minutes may not have been long enough to allow music to affect this measure.

By decreasing stress levels, the researchers conclude that cat-specific music may not only have benefits in terms of the welfare of the cat, but owners can feel reassured that their cat will have a more comfortable visit, and the veterinary team will be able to assess their feline patients more accurately. “We conclude that cat-specific music may benefit cats by decreasing the stress levels and increasing the quality of care in veterinary clinical settings,” the researchers wrote in their JFMS journal.

In May 2019, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in London, the longest-running cat café in the UK, announced it will be trialling digital pet health monitoring technology to provide insights into the behaviour, rest and activity patterns of its cats.

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