Cats Training: Music Therapy

How Music Solves Cat Behavior Problems

Kitten playing with keyboard
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Cats' training with music can help solve cat behavior problems. Our pet cats are attuned to sound and are incredibly sensitive to noises, including music. But what sort of tune gets Kitty's motor running?

Everybody’s a critic. My cat does her lion cough--“ack-ack-ack”--complaining whenever I sit down at the piano, or take out my cello to practice. She doesn’t seem to mind my singing quite so much (although my German shepherd Magic howls along!).

But Seren really enjoys some of my CDs, especially the violins or new age music. Maybe your kitties are country music fans, or rock-and-roll cats. Music can be a safe, easy to use, and powerful tool in behavior modification to soothe cat behavior problems.

How Music Solves Cat Behavior Problems

Pleasant music can mask scary noises like thunder, or upsetting sounds like a trespassing cat’s meows, hisses and snarls that put your pet’s tail in a twist. But more than that, the cadence of certain sounds influences the body’s natural rhythms and can speed them up and energize the listener, or slow them down to calm him.

For instance, a hyperactive or fearful pet can be soothed with music or distracted with the music of nature like water running from a fountain. Lethargic pets that need to exercise can be energized with chirping bird sounds or fast music to get up and boogie to the beat.

Changing Brain Waves

Sound causes physical changes in the body.

Brain waves change with different kinds of sounds—music with a pulse of about 60 beats per minute slows the brain waves so the listener feels more relaxed and peaceful and shifts the consciousness into a more alert state. This rhythm also slows breathing, which calms the mind and improves the metabolism.

It works for humans, and also for our pets.

Even the heart wants to follow the pulse of the music—faster rhythms energize the listener as his heartbeat increases and blood pressure rises, while slower tempos calm. Listening to music releases endorphins—natural painkillers that are produced by the brain—and reduces the levels of “stress hormones” in the blood.

Sound Therapy

Sound therapy is still considered pretty new. One of the best known applications is ultrasound that uses the “echo” of high frequency sound waves to take diagnostic pictures inside the body—doctors even use it to break up kidney stones with vibration instead of surgery. Over the last 20 years, music therapy has become a staple of the human mental health profession, and is often used with troubled children and brain-disordered patients.

Therapeutic harp music helps relieve pain that drugs don’t help, soothes emotional upset, and has become of particular help in hospice situations for human patients. One of the pioneers, Susan Raimond, also promotes the therapeutic effect of harp music in animals. The sound of harp music calms fractious dogs and cats and offers almost a natural sedative effect so that the upset animals become quiet, lay down and go to sleep.

Musical Intervention

The simplest way to treat cats with music is to put on a CD or turn on the radio. Choose music you like—pets seem to respond best to music their owners enjoy because of the bond you share. If you have favorite music you often play, your pet will associate the sound with your presence—so playing that same music when he’s alone will remind him of you and help ease problems like separation anxiety.

Soft music with a slow, steady rhythm helps calm agitated pets. It can help arthritic cats relax their muscles and increase their range of motion. It takes about 10 or 15 minutes for the music to take effect. Many pets enjoy Mozart or other classical music. New Age, soft jazz, southwest music with flutes and nature sounds, or even ballad-type Country can be soothing. The music should be melodic (not dissonant) and the tempo even and slow.

You can play calming music anytime your pet feels stressed—even all day long as a background to help keep him calm.

Turn up the volume to energize your pet. Moderate to loud music with a more driving beat energizes the emotions and can encourage lethargic pets to exercise and lift depression or grief. Rock music, even the driving energy of Rap may get a pet’s tail moving, but any up-tempo music from classical to contemporary has the power to energize. Again, play the music for at least 10 to 15 minutes at a time to get your pet in the right mood.

Perhaps someday my musicianship will win Seren’s approval. Until then, guess I’ll stick to CDs.