The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Do pets respond to music? Yes, but what kind of music depends on the animal, says a University of Wisconsin animal psychologist. | March 25, 2012

ALERT: Word has reached The Ear of a FREE student concert, with faculty participants, worth attending today. At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck (below) and friends will present a full performance of George Crumb‘s “American Songbook 5: Voices From a Forgotten World.”  This is the 5th installment of Crumb’s American Songbook Series, which is a seven-volume collection of American folk songs, set to Crumb’s unique and colorful orchestration.  The ensemble features two vocalists, a pianist and four percussionists, together playing over 100 instruments.

By Jacob Stockinger

Remember the so-called Mozart Effect on babies’ intelligence? Well, that pseudo-science or pop psychology seems recently to have been pretty well debunked and discredited.

But what about animals and music?

For many years, I have sworn that my cat Rosie (below) loves music, just as I do, especially piano music.

Rosie is a sweet and pretty tabby cat, and she seems to come over by the piano and sit down or lie down and roll over, or even jump onto my lap while I am playing or whenever I start practicing.

It seems to happen especially whenever I am playing Bach, Schubert or Chopin.

So I wondered: Is it me and the fact she identifies the piano sound with my presence, the same way Pavlov’s dogs responded to bells? Or is it the music?

Well, it is probably some of each, says Charles T. Snowden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher and animal psychologist.

Among his findings are that animals show some breed specificity in the music they prefer. That is, they follow their own species’ taste or preference rather than their owner’s taste or preference. That has led one entrepreneurial person even to market songs for cats, downloadable for $1.99 each (Meow-w-w-!).

But he also found that dogs respond with relaxation to classical music while heavy metal makes them more agitated.

Well is that the music or the oppressive sound? After all, I too — like most humans, I bet — become more agitated when listening to heavy metal, which seems intended deliberately to agitate the listener.

Here are some links to stories about research on pets and music:

Some of the findings also seem to support my theory that Rosie is bothered by string instruments—especially high-pitched Baroque violins with GUT strings. I always thinks she objects to other animals, maybe even her ancestors, being used that way for human amusement and entertainment.

But maybe that is anthropomorphizing too much.

Based on his research, I suspect Snowden would probably say it is the high pitch and the fast tempo of early string music that really get to her.

Oh well, more enlightenment and obfuscation are sure to follow.

How do you pets react to music and what kid of music?

Do you have pet and music story to share?

The Ear wants to hear.



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  3. […] follow their own species’ taste or preference rather than their owner’s taste or preference.…y-of-wisconsin-animal-psychologist-has-found/ Of course I've also read research that animals do not respond to music, my personal […]

    Pingback by Why do we enjoy listening to music? — June 4, 2015 @ 1:27 pm

  4. Lady, as far as I know, they never actually made violin strings out of cats, that’s a myth. The “catgut” means CATTLE, as in cows.

    Comment by Corporal Clegg — February 7, 2013 @ 6:03 am

    • Hi Corporal,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      I think you are absolute right — cat gut was never used for instrument strings.
      But instead of cattle, I think they used sheep gut.
      Maybe one of our early music readers with a specialist’s knowledge can tell us the truth.
      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 7, 2013 @ 8:48 am

  5. My cat is an elderly domestic short hair and sometimes I worry because he is very tense and get frightened easily. I noticed when I had Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique the 4th movement he came quietly and sat right next to me. He curled up in a ball and appeared calm, relaxed almost dazed and started to fall asleep. Then I put on the sound of rain and birds and he completely knocked out.

    Comment by Mona Moses — January 11, 2013 @ 1:29 am

  6. Surely they respond! My parrot choose some kind of rock music, classic music, especially he is always singing with Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and Metallica 🙂
    He begins singning with the first chords and stops only when the music is changing.

    Comment by Carolina Tarlton — March 26, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

  7. Rosie looks so sweet, I also have a tabby that looks similar.

    My piano studio is small and so the piano is too loud for her, the sounds just bounce around all over the walls and her ears unfortunately can’t take that.

    However, recently I was playing some guitar music on the clock radio with some castanets mixed in. Oh my gosh, she was SO into it. She stopped everything, sat up gopher style to investigate where that sound was coming from. I love to watch animals react to music, for sure they have a response.

    Comment by Katrina Querriera — March 25, 2012 @ 9:08 pm

  8. My cat also responds to music
    but only the kind that
    has an aroma of smoked salmon

    Comment by cyril — March 25, 2012 @ 6:27 pm

  9. Thanks so much for the mention, Jake! We appreciate it. Hope you’re having a great weekend!
    -Jamie Van Eyck

    Comment by Jamie Van Eyck — March 25, 2012 @ 10:07 am

    • Hi Jamie,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      Glad to help.
      Good luck to you and the pot he performers.

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 25, 2012 @ 11:11 am

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