How to calm your pet with music
Soothing music helps dogs and cats relax
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I've known my dog was into pop music since she was a puppy. Men at Work's "Down Under" came on while I was cleaning, and her ears perked up at the sound of the flute in the intro. Her face lit up, and she started prancing around.
This was the beginning of a chore day dance party ritual that continues to this day. The same music I use to get myself moving animates her too, and it's a great way for us to bond.
Cats and dogs can be comforted by soothing sounds.
Music is good for your pet
The music we humans listen to has an emotional impact on us. Recent studies have shown that our companion animals might not be all that different from us in that regard.
Animals have sensitive ears, and sounds can have a profound impact on their emotional state and overall wellbeing.
Music can have an uplifting effect on pets, and it can help ease stress associated with things like:
- car rides and trips to the vet
- separation anxiety
- thunderstorms or fireworks
- changes in the home environment
- adapting to new surroundings
My dog Appa seems relaxed most of the time, but beneath her calm exterior, she is 150 pounds of pure emotion.
What kind of music should you play for your pet?
Pets and human music
Studies involving animals' responses to human music have led to a new understanding of which kinds of sounds cats and dogs find most comforting.
Apparently, the canine experience of music is similar to our own. Depending on the type, human music can have a calming or energizing effect on dogs. And some kinds of music can agitate them and put them on edge.
Your dog may well have her own musical tastes and preferences, but researchers have made the following observations:
- pop and reggae can induce happiness and playfulness in dogs
- classical music can keep dogs relaxed and mellow
- original music composed for dogs can also keep them calm in times of stress
My cats have never seemed to care much about music one way or the other, and now I know why. Scientists have found that feline ears are tuned into a higher frequency than human or dog ears. And they actually do show emotional responses to music — just mostly not our music.
Musicians and behaviorists have worked to produce species-specific music to keep pets happy and chilled out. In general, species-specific music is slow-paced and soothing, and uses frequencies and sounds that animals find comforting.
You can find original music composed specifically for dogs or cats on CDs and playlists on popular streaming services like Spotify.
Does it really work?
I was surprised by the range of original music that exists for both dogs and cats — and more than curious to see its effects — so I tested it out with my own pets and at a local animal hospital.
I got to see firsthand how dogs and cats respond differently to music, and how it can make a difference when pets are stressed out — and even when they're already relaxed.
Demos with dogs
Crutchfield intern “Cooper” takes a break in his office to relax to the sounds of Pet Tunes for dogs. When we turn the music on, he goes from prancing around to sleeping soundly within minutes.
The Pet Tunes speaker for dogs was my introduction to species-specific music. I first listened to it in a colleague's office where I observed her little dachshund roll over on his back and relax completely, and then snap back into alert mode as soon as the speaker was turned off, as if he'd just come out of a trance. Needless to say, I was intrigued.
Dog music at home
My big couch potato of a Great Pyrenees mix doesn't tend to get too worked up most of the time (unless, of course, she's listening to pop music), so I wasn't sure how I'd know if the soothing music was calming her down. I got my chance to find out when she started barking out the window at something in the yard.
When I turned on the Pet Tunes speaker, she stopped barking pretty much right away, and her ears started twitching. Her breathing slowed way down, and she sank down into a relaxed position, while still watching out the window for the intruder in the yard.
I realized that protecting the household from stray cats and opossums has to be a stressful job. I was surprised to see how effective the music was in quieting her down, and my ears were glad for a break from the barking.
A lot of dogs are terrified of thunderstorms. Music can keep them calm and help them feel safe.
I tried the Pet Tunes speaker with my dog again when I found her cowering in the bathroom because of distant thunder from a passing storm. Once her dog music was playing she came out into the living room and lay calmly out in the open, instead of hiding her head under the couch like she'd normally do. This really got me. It breaks my heart to see her so scared, and I was so glad I could offer her some comfort.
I've kept using Pet Tunes at home and I've tried some different dog music on Spotify, and my dog seems to enjoy it all. I think I even know which tracks are her favorites.
Dogs of all ages relax when they hear soothing canine music.
Dog music at the vet's
Pet Tunes was a hit at the vet's office too. I saw a reluctant dog go from struggling with the technicians to lying down on the exam table after the music came on.
They brought the speaker in for a couple of other dog appointments, including an exam with an exuberant puppy, and reported that all the dogs seemed to relax as soon as they heard the music.
The owners also said they thought the Pet Tunes music helped their dogs stay calm. The staff were happy to have manageable patients, and a couple of them even said the music was so relaxing they'd use it on themselves.
Kitty jam sessions
Our feline friends get down to their own music.
There is a surprising selection of cat music out there. I read a lot about composer David Teie's Music for Cats, so I had to download it and give it a try. It is basically airy, ethereal music interspersed with sounds that mimic purring, suckling, and heartbeats. And there are high-frequency sounds that seem to mimic birds and insects. These sounds are all meant to intrigue and comfort our feline companions.
Cat music at home
When I first played Music for Cats on my phone, two of my three cats were completely enthralled. They each rubbed their faces on my phone before curling up by my side and purring.
When I played it through my stereo system, they got all wide-eyed and went looking all around the room for the source of the sounds. As I kept playing it, the music seemed to calm them down more and more, until they each finally settled into a relaxed state.
Honestly, I thought parts of it sounded like weird space music at first, but I also have positive associations with the sound of kitty purrs, so it has really grown on me. Seeing my cats' emotional reactions to their own music makes me feel like I understand them a little better, and it definitely feels like bonding when we all relax together.
Home-based Crutchfield intern "Fergie" checks out Pet Tunes for cats.
I tried Pet Tunes for cats and found that it was similar to the dog version in a few ways. They even share a couple of the same tracks.
My cats didn't have the initial going crazy moment over Pet Tunes like they did with Music for Cats, but there were plenty of sounds that got their attention. One track had cricket sounds, which I personally found delightful.
Music helps cats relax during stressful car rides and veterinary exams.
Cat music at the vet's
Pet Tunes for cats proved very effective in a veterinary environment. I handed it over to a couple of ladies whose cat was crying in the lobby, and as soon as the music started playing, the cat settled in and quieted right down.
They brought the speaker into the exam room, and the cat kept calm throughout the visit. When they returned to the lobby and turned off the music, he started crying again.
There seems to be some overlap between dog and cat music. When I played Music for Cats at home, the dog seemed to find parts of it as relaxing as her special dog music. Some of the higher-pitched sounds did put her on the alert, and she'd get upset when she saw the cats acting like they were onto something she couldn't see or understand — to the point where she chased them down a couple times when they were stalking invisible things in the living room.
Both versions of the Pet Tunes speaker seemed to have a mellowing effect on us all, so I'm pretty sure that all members of a mixed canine/feline household could benefit from using either the dog or the cat Pet Tunes speaker, if not both.
Get in tune with your pet
I'm always looking for new ways to bond with my pets. Researching this article helped me learn a few new things about them, and I plan to keep playing music just for them from now on.
Give species-specific music a try with your dog or cat, and you may be pleasantly surprised by how well they respond to it, and how much you get out of it in return.
If you want even more ways to make sure your pet is living his or her best life, check out our smart pet offerings.