The Amazing Science Behind How Music Affects Animals

Music is food for the soul. To some of us, music has such a profound effect that we’re addicted to it. But if you thought that only humans enjoy music, you’re wrong. Animals, too, react to music. Although not all of them will shake their head to the rhythm of the beat, they have pretty intense reactions to music. 

Curious about the science behind how music affects animals? Here we look into some fascinating studies that show the effects of music on our fluffy, furry and scaly friends. 

Photo by Moshe Schneider on Unsplash

Music reduces stress and anxiety in dogs

Music therapy has been used as an anxiety remedy in humans for a long time. But, did you know that music also helps reduce stress in your pup?

According to a 2012 study conducted by Colorado State University, classical music played to kenneled dogs helped them relax. Yet another study done in 2017 by Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow indicates that although classical music did calm dogs, they became bored after listening to it for a few days. 

However, reggae and soft rock music was found to reduce dogs’ stress, barking, and heartbeat. Reggae and soft rock music is also recommended for dogs with separation anxiety, those that have trouble sleeping and dogs that fear thunder or loud noises. Music Groupies explain that dogs are calmed by this  genre of music as the rhythm mimics a dog’s heartbeat. For a pooch, listening to the music is like snuggling next to their mother and feeling soothed from the rhythm of her heartbeat.

The realization that music helps relieve stress in dogs has seen dog-oriented music become a thriving genre of music. Music such as Dog reggae and Paws, Play, Relax are just examples of music designed for dogs that have become popular with dog users. Different situations when your dog can benefit from calm music include:

  • After you bring a puppy home to help them adjust
  • When you leave your dog alone at home
  • When you want your restless puppy to fall asleep
  • When your dog is in their safe place
  • When you take your pup at the vet during examination
  • If there are thunderstorms or fireworks
  • When your pup has travel anxiety when riding in the car

Cats enjoy ‘cat music’

Unlike dogs, Human music has minimal effect on your cat. However, there is a kind of music that your furry friend will enjoy -music specifically designed for cats!

A study conducted in 2015 by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison documented that cats will respond highly to music written specifically to them. This kind of music has a tempo and a pitch that appeals to felines. Such tempos include purring and suckling sounds.

Cat songs have been shown to evoke positive responses from cats such as purring, the cat rubbing against the speaker, or the cat walking towards the music. According to the study, old and younger cats reacted to the songs more positively compared to middle-aged cats.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Cows love relaxing music

Research conducted by the University of Leicester in 2001 documented that cows produce more milk when they listen to calm music. The 1000 Friesian dairy cows produced 3% more milk when they listened to cool songs such as Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony or R.E.M.‘s Everybody Hurts.

The cows were shown to prefer calmer music compared to fast-paced music, probably because it was more relaxing, and it reduced stress.

Birds react to music just like humans

We admire birds’ beautiful songs, and it turns out that birds’ response to their music is similar to how we respond when we hear our music. A study by Emory University researchers sought to determine if birds make music as we do. The study examined the brains of male and female sparrows as they listened to male birds’ songs. 

The results showed that the female sparrow’s part of the brain that is similar to the human’s amygdala lit up after hearing the male sounds. The male birds weren’t so pleased as they reacted similarly to what humans have when they listen to songs that they don’t like.

Fish can differentiate among composers

A study done by Keio university researchers that was published in the journal of Behavioral Processes showed that goldfish could differentiate among composers after training. The team that used two composers trained the fish to gnaw on a ball of food when they heard a particular composer. If they got the composer right, they were rewarded with food. 

The fish were able to correlate a particular composer with food. The findings of the study showed that the goldfish didn’t gnaw on the ball when the researchers played a different composer’s song.

Photo by Foad Memariaan on Unsplash

Animals can identify rhythms

Past studies have shown that different animals can identify rhythms and similarities in songs.  A study indicated that horses could synchronize their pace with music rhythm that is played in the background. Bonobos and sea lions were also shown to produce similar reactions to background music.

Monkeys can Sense Monkey Music

Cats aren’t the only ones that react to their songs. Monkeys do too!

A study done in 2009 showed that Tamarins that are small monkeys found in Central and South America reacted to sounds that mimicked their calls. The researchers created four songs, two of the songs mimicked Tamarins’ distress call while the other two mimicked Tamarins’ calming call.

When the researchers played the distress call, the monkeys showed signs of distress while the monkeys remained calm when they heard the calming sounds. 

Clearly, music is enjoyed by humans and animals alike. If you are wondering how to calm your distressed pet who’s at home, maybe it’s time you followed the above tips and put on some pet-friendly music.

About the Author:

Emma is a professional writer and blogger, with two furry friends and a lot of pet behavioral and pet health knowledge to share. She has written for numerous big animal magazines and health sites, and is a regular contributor to The Catington Post.

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