Music, Pets, and Stress

It embarrasses me, a little, but I listened intently to a podcast talking about music as a stress-reducer for animals. Of course, this was about animals listening to music, not creating it. Aside from Christmas-themed novelty songs, animals are proven to be bad musicians. Just take my word for it. As musical consumers, they are not particularly good at buying music, but do, apparently, listen to it and respond well. I’m kind of a skeptical guy — it’s why my day job is in science — so I doubted the whole animal-listening thing. It may be true, but I say, “Show me the statistics.”

Hold on a moment. I’m at work and someone, ironically, just showed me some statistics, not about animals and music but … just a moment … that’s right and that other part is not …

OK, I’m back. It seems that, if all I say is “p is less than 0.05” most of my collaborators go away happy. I wished I’d learned that at a younger age. As for music and animals, I am completely willing to believe that there are noises or sounds that affect animals moods. I’ve seen first hand (anecdotal) evidence as a cat perks up to bird noises and dogs try to imitate ambulances. But music? Really? Apparently so. When several animal shelters received a 10+ hour program of specially selected music, the resident animals, stress bunnies and all, were much quieter. Among the music choices were distinctly new age music and some classical music simplified to just slowly played piano chords. Were they calmer or just afraid of what torture would come next? I can assure you that, if I worked there, I would be much more agitated and any animal in my presence would be wise to be quiet or feel the brunt of my slightly angrier tone as I say, “Hey there, little guy. How’re you doing? Do you have an ouchie? How’s your tum-tum?” Yeah, fear my soft heart, all you new-age listening puppies!

There is some logic to it. As one interviewee described it, the best music is not music that engages your attention, but music that sits gently in the background and, only occasionally draws attention to itself. Such music is almost exactly how Psychic Ills felt to me as I listened in my agitated state. This particular ‘expert’ (I’m still in cynical science-rant mode) went on to talk about how, when distressed, complicated music or demanding music is almost always wrong for creatures with two-legs or four. After a little Orwellian flashback dissipated, I remembered that, yes, indeed, when I was at my emotional worst, I hated almost all music, but particular that oh-so-clever kind where someone does something immensely creative in a sea of other immensely creative sounds. All I could handle was musical pap, if that. So, with these little anecdotal similarities, I can only conclude that either I am a dog or I was quite stressed … perhaps both.

So, why would animals like music and what would they like about it? In a completely untested leap-of-faith (still cynical), the expert concluded that it was the presentation of simple, easy to understand, predictable patterns that soothed while complicated, sharp/angular, unrepeating patterns did not soothe … oh, that makes sense, too. Maybe it works.

Dogs trying to escape their mundane lives

In one final bit of torture, it seemed that one animal shelter found the music to be immensely helpful but wondered if the music provider could send them a second song or maybe even two extra songs. Apparently, they were left hearing the same song repeated continuously for twelve hours a day, for two months. As a human, that is a workplace I would not last in. As a dog, I’d be desperately trying to learn to play cards and buy my way out. As a cat … well … who cares? The cats certainly don’t. That’s why I like them better.

6 thoughts on “Music, Pets, and Stress

  1. I don’t have any truly empirical proof that musics salves the savage beast, but I do know that whenever I cat sit or have to transport my sister’s 14 year old grumpy cat, he’s much calmer with a light classical music station on the radio than without, or with a different sort of station.

    And my p is always less than 0.05 unless I’ve REALLY tied one on the night before. Sorry – couldn’t resist, particularly in light of how many times I’d had to urinate into a cup for drugs testing as a cross-border freight driver.

    • Transporting my own kitties cross-country, I learned that they definitely don’t like David Sedaris. Cats have obviously poor taste!

  2. Oh yes. You know I trust you absolutely on most things musical – but I am a whisperer – and trust me, the beasts would rather hear music than the latest about who is sleeping with whom on the real housewives of anywhere. Currently, I’m keeping mine in coma with this: http://snd.sc/1hItvMO, but that may not be fair. Having your mother sing you a lullaby is going to be different from elevator music I don’t care how you slice it – at least if I’m singing to them, they can stretch out on the couch – none of that randomness that comes with jumping up and pushing whatever floor button you can reach…

    And my cats respond as well. That “kitty-kitty” thing on 230 acres? Not so much. But stand in the yard and sing and the cats will come, purring. Hey – this is road tested research. I promise.

    • I completely believe you. My skepticism is probably more of a knee jerk thing (I’m not sure if I believe myself sometimes). I’m pretty good with calming cats without music so maybe it’s my own over-confidence that reacts negatively to being outdone by music.

  3. It’s not something I’ve really thought of, that animals might appreciate music. I know that with our previoud dog, we made up a song that we use to sing or whistle, and he understood that that was the ‘walk’ song. It was kind of cool.

Am I wrong?