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New Study Finds That Cats Follow The Beat Of Their Own Drum

Nika V
Cats couldn't care less about human music but researchers have found a new genre that felines enjoy.

You may noticed that Lake Effect started with a different piece of music today. But your cat may have noticed it for completely different reasons.

The song, called “Rusty’s Ballad,” was written expressly for our feline companions, to whom, Charles Snowdon says, we are beholden as servants.  Snowdon is professor emeritus of clinical psychology at UW Madison, and the lead author on a new study of the effect of music on cats.  It’s interesting work, and Charles Snowdon explained the concept of the study to Lake Effect's Bonnie North.

"We're going to try to see if we can build emotional content into music and we want to test it on another species," Snowdon says. "We really have to think about what's their range of hearing like? What's their range of sound production like? And what are the tempos that are appropriate to them?"

The result is several songs written just for cats and their unique sense of hearing. To test the songs, Snowdon and his team took a laptop and two speakers to the homes of 47 different cats and played four songs: two classical music tracks, and two “cat songs.”

Sample of the "cat music" created by University of Maryland composer David Teie.

The behavior of the cats was noted as either positive (purring, rubbing against speaker) or negative (hissing, arching of the back). The study found that a majority of the felines responded positively to their own specialized cat songs.

This study however barely touches the surface of the relationship between all animals and music. Perhaps you have noticed that your dog seems to enjoy a particular genre, so you leave it on whenever you leave the house. However, most studies don't offer any concrete evidence as to what the effects of music are on animals. Snowdon is hopeful that through similar sophisticated techniques such as the composition of specific songs used in his research, the gap can be closed and more facts will be revealed. 

So next time you play music in the house or the car with your pet, don't assume he or she is going to like it. 

Megan Savage is the co-author on the paper published in the journal, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, who is from the Milwaukee area and did her undergraduate work at UW.  The music for the study was composed by University of Maryland composer David Teie. 

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.