Pets & Music: Can Music Soothe The Anxious Beast?

Does it work? Here's the verdict on music that's branded as pet anxiety relief.

 

In a previous article, we mentioned music as a possible stress-reducer during holiday fireworks and other noise.  It would seem that music does have some effect on animals undergoing stress, but we still don’t know precisely what music suits what pets and what moods.  Is it worth it to invest in music that is marketed as a pet-stress-reduction aid?

What Do The Studies Say?

One study found that classical music and soft seemed to reduce stress in shelter dogs.  However, it was noted that music touted as specifically formulated to calm dogs didn’t appear to have an effect on stress.  Patricia McConnell, an animal behavior expert, noted that dogs seem to prefer “long, extended notes, pure tones and relatively slow tempos”.

A study on cats and music found that classical music is the best for feline serenity.  A different study indicates that cats may prefer music that has nothing to do with our tastes. ‘Species-appropriate music’ is music with rhythms that mimic the target species’ natural communication.  The music that was created took its tempo and rhythm from purring and the average feline heartbeat.

Species-Appropriate Music? 

There’s no word on whether species-appropriate music has been created for dogs.  If there were, what would it sound like?  Dogs make many different vocalizations, but many of them are in response to heightened stimuli. Making music based on these sounds would possibly excite dogs rather than soothe them.  It might be construed that this is why soft rock might be more appealing to dogs than other types of music. If it mimics the average canine heartbeat, it might trigger sensations of safety from early puppyhood.

Anecdotal evidence has it that rabbits, hamsters, ferrets, and other small mammals like music, but studies in this area do not seem extensive.  Some species of birds, on the other hand, have been observed to respond to and even have personal tastes in music.

How Can You Use Music To Help De-Stress Your Pet?

With a number of studies on the ground on music’s effect on pets, it seems clear that music does affect most animals to some degree.  As a stress-reliever, music has had varied effects on different species and on individual pets.  It is not clear how much relief from anxiety music can give an individual pet; like many other approaches to mitigating stress, it works best as part of a long-term stress-reduction strategy.

In order to maximize any stress reduction in your pet, it is probably best to experiment with different kinds of music and sounds to see if any positively or negatively affect your pet before putting it into practice at a stressful time.  It’s sometimes hard to see whether a specific thing is having a specific effect, but it might be worth it to find out that your dog prefers guitar riffs to the fiddle and your cat would much rather listen to “Born Free” than “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog”. One might also theorize that any music your pet associates with a pleasant, relaxing time might also be a useful trigger.  As lullabies can serve as a trigger for a child’s brain to shift into sleep mode, so might a specific song or series of songs serve to trigger relaxation in your pet.  This is a long-term strategy and should be used in conjunction with other approaches to make your pet better able to adjust to whatever situation is disturbing them.

So, Is It Worth It?

It might be wise to take claims about ‘proven to de-stress your pet!’ with a grain of salt.  That doesn't mean music for pets won't help yours.  You may also want to experiment with natural sounds like water or birdsong.  See what affects your pet (or what doesn’t) and make your choices accordingly. 

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Julie MacTire is a writer and educator devoted to the world of dogs. She also writes a blog (shibainus.ca) about her adventures with her Shiba Inu, Tierce, and is a supporter of many pet welfare organizations.

References & Resources

Grooming, Stress-Free

Scaredy Cut is the gentle clipper designed for grooming sensitive pets.
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