Do cats respond to music? The question should be rephrased, ‘Do cats respond favourably to music?’. Some human music played loudly would certainly upset a cat if not a human as well. So the question is whether cats like music as most humans do. And I think it is an important question because there are cat music products on the market. Are they useful?
Research – cat music
Research indicates that cats show ‘an interest in’ music composed for cats but do not respond to human music. An example of cat music can be played below using the embedded player. It is called “Cozmo’s Air” by David Teie.
The researchers at Wisconsin University also found that middle-aged cats responded less well than old or young cats. The conclusion is that cats can benefit from cat-appropriate music. However, I would hazard a guess and say that the researchers are guessing, at least a little, themselves.
An ‘interest’ in cat-appropriate music does not confirm that cats like music. Perhaps cats have no concept whatsoever of music as it is a human invention. We don’t know for sure but it is likely.
Dr Morris writing in Cat World opens up on this subject with the line:
“The feline response to musical sounds appears to be idiosyncratic.”
He writes that some cats show an interest while others appear to detest it and a third group love it. At the time he wrote this (1996) he said that the reports on this subject were confusing. He further writes that the ‘musical sense of cats is a feline myth’.
When domestic cats respond to human music they are reacting in their own way to selected notes ‘according to their own instinctive system of sound signals.’
Some notes from human music trigger sexual feelings while others trigger parental feelings or of self-protection. For instance a musical note of a certain pitch will be similar to the mewing of a distressed kitten. Other notes might resemble other sounds made by cats and trigger a different response. The female cat referred to below (Gautier’s cat) perhaps interpreted the high A as a distress call.
Dr Morris says that ‘cats are mistaking our messages and we, in the past, have reciprocated by misunderstanding theirs.’
He provides some examples.
French writer Theophile Gautier
His female cat was interested in the voice of a singer accompanying him on the piano but high notes upset his cat. Dr Morris speculates that the notes which interested his cat reminded her of feline distress calls which resulted in the cat putting her paw over the signer’s mouth. The note was a high A.
Frenchman CC Pierquin
The reaction of one of his cats to a certain sequence of notes was to go into uncontrollable convulsions while the other jumped up onto the piano and showed great interest in the music.
Composer Henri Sauguet
His cat Cody reacted ecstatically to Debussy on the piano. Cody would roll around the carpet, jump onto the piano and then onto the pianist’s lap. He’d then lick the pianist’s hands which stopped the playing at which point Cody wandered off. Perhaps he liked the pianist more than the music he was playing or he wanted to comfort the pianist believing that the sound emanating from him signified distress.
Morin and Bachrach
These doctors found that young cats defecated to the sound of the note E of the fourth octave whereas adult cats become sexually excited. High notes caused cats to become agitated.
I am persuaded by Dr Morris’s argument. The cat-appropriate music by David Teie is interesting but we don’t know whether it pleases cats. I suspect that cat’s don’t appreciate music as it is by humans for humans.