Music to a cat’s ears

Meow that’s a tune

Graphic by Evan Tremblay

Research shows that cats like music, they just have different taste than us humans.

Cats are stereotyped as being apathetic about most things.

Does your cat love you? Sure – you feed it and give it attention when it desires some.

Does your cat love your laptop when you’re working away at an important project? Probably – it’s warm and any reason to bug you when you’re busy is good reason for a cat.

Does your cat love the smooth grooves of Taylor Swift playing in the background as you work away?

Well, probably not. Even Taylor Swift’s cats probably don’t care much for “Shake It Off.”

Perhaps this perceived apathy is because we are trying to fit their round-peg interests into our square-hole human archetypes.

Cats don’t care about our music, but they seem to enjoy music that is tailor-made for them (sorry Swift, not Taylor-made).

The study, published in Applied Animal Behavioral Science, was carried out by psychologists from the University of Wisconsin. The researchers analyzed how cats reacted to deliberately-composed “species-appropriate” music.

The researchers presented the cat-specific music to pet cats in an “exposure session” under controlled conditions.

The control songs used in the study were “Elegie”by Gabriel Fauré and “Air on a G String” by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The cat-specific music was engineered to incorporate tones that fall within the frequency range of and have similar tempos to the vocalizations that cats use for communication.

This cat-specific music differs from human music since we typically do not share these frequency ranges and tempos.

One cat song used in this study, “Cozmo’s Air,” was composed with a pulse reminiscent of purring.

The other cat song used, “Rusty’s Ballad,” had a pulse similar to the sound of kitten suckling. Salon’s Joanna Rothkopf wrote, “‘Rusty’s Ballad’ sounds mysteriously like a Sigur Rós track.” It is still unclear if cats like Sigur Rós.

Both pieces incorporated sliding frequencies, which are common in cat meows but not in human speech. Neither piece attempted to imitate the cries of a cat.

Both cat-specific songs were, on average, two octaves higher than the control songs. Despite this, the two pieces contained elements of human music to ensure that it was still “acceptable” for cat owners.

The researchers tested 47 pet cats in these music exposure sessions. The exposures involved three-minute sessions of a cat-specific song played alongside its respective control counterpart.

To ensure that each song was new to the cats, they were only ever played once.

Cat behaviours were analyzed twice, first in person during the exposure session, and afterward by observing recorded footage.

While listening to the control music, the cats acted as their usual indifferent selves. But when the cat-specific music was played, some cats would rub up against the speakers.

Collectively, the cats showed notable preference and interest in the cat-specific music.

The researchers hope to carry this work further and develop music that uses ultrasound frequencies to act like “sonic catnip.”


 For more information about cat-specific music, check out the website