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Study: Music composed just for cats can calm them during exams

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Earlier this year, Spotify introduced Pet Playlists—collections of songs designed to keep pets company when their owners aren’t home. Each playlist is supposedly tailored to individual pets’ personalities, although their owners’ musical tastes play an important role in Spotify’s algorithm.

But can music help calm a cat who’s freaked out by a visit to the veterinarian? Yes, according to a new study—if the cat’s musical taste is taken into account.

In the study “Effects of music on behavior and physiological stress response of domestic cats in a veterinary clinic,” published in Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, researchers at Louisiana State University analyzed how cats responded to music composed specially for felines. That music was inspired by the sounds cats make, and included purring and suckling sounds, in high frequencies similar to a cat’s vocal range (which is two octaves higher than humans’).

(If you want to know what cat music sounds like, check out “Scooter Bere’s Aria.”)

Specifically, the researchers wanted to determine if music composed with cats in mind played in a veterinary clinical setting would promote lower cat stress scores (CSSs), lower mean handling-scale scores (HSs), and reduced neutrophil-lymphocyte ratios (NLRs) in cats during physical exams.

Cats were exposed to one of three auditory stimuli tests–20 minutes of silence, 20 minutes of classical music for humans, or 20 minutes of the aforementioned, cat-intended Aria—during three physical examinations two weeks apart. CSSs were recorded at pre- and postauditory tests and during the examination period. The HSs were recorded at the physical examination period. The physiological stress was assessed after the exam via NLRs.

During each subsequent hospital visit, the cats’ stress levels were assessed using video footage and their overall body behavior and posture.

Overall, all of the cats were “significantly” less stressed during their trip to the veterinarian after listening to cat music than after listening to either classical music or silence. Interestingly, this calmness was not reflected in the cats’ NLR, and the researchers speculate that 20 minutes may not have been enough time for the effects of the music to appear in the blood samples.

The researchers note that these findings are good for people, too.

Lead researcher Amanda Hampton, DVM, CVA, told NEWStat that, in general, it’s all about reducing stress and anxiety for all concerned: “The music is a part of providing the right environmental stimulation to ease the nerves of cats and help them feel comfortable in [the hospital].”

“We also have the benefit of happy owners,” Hampton added. “No one likes bringing a stressed cat into the vet.” And less anxious cats could lead to more visits for feline patients. “Happy cats mean more happy owners.” 

Not to mention happy veterinarians.

“We have the benefit of more accurate exams and maybe even more accurate labs,” Hampton said.

Cat karaoke may not be far behind.

Photo credit: © iStock/martin-dm