Anyone who loves music knows how therapeutic it can be, and now researchers have shown that a good melody may have the same affect on cats. But they think our human-tunes suck.
To work out whether cats could respond to music, scientists from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Maryland, both in the US, composed 'cat-centric music'.
"We looked at the natural vocalisations of cats and matched our music to the same frequency range, which is about an octave or more higher than human voices," lead author Charles Snowdon told Jennifer Viegas for Discovery News.
In human music, the drumbeat often mimics our heartbeat, and so in the cat music, the team instead replicated the tempo of things that cats would find interesting - one song featured a purring tempo, and another featured a suckling tempo.
"And since cats use lots of sliding frequencies in their calls, the cat music had many more sliding notes than the human music," Snowdon told Viegas. You can hear the results, Spook's Ditty, Cosmo's Air and Rusty's Ballad, over at the team's website 'Music for Cats', and trust us, they don't sound as bad as you're imagining.
In the study, the cat songs were played back to 47 domestic cats, and the researchers watched how the felines reacted compared to when they listened to two classical human songs - Johann Sebastian Bach's Air on a G String and Gabriel Fauré's Elegie.
Publishing in the journal Applied Animal Behavioural Science, the team reports that the cats didn't respond at all to the human music. But when the cat music started up, they became excited and started approaching the speakers, often rubbing their scent glands on them, which means they were trying to claim the object.
While composing music for cats may sound like a joke (the pointless kind, not the haha kind), the research could offer new ways to keep cats calm in shelters, boarding homes and vets
As the researchers write in the journal article: "The results suggest novel and more appropriate ways for using music as auditory enrichment for nonhuman animals."
But beyond the therapeutic affects, the research also provides fascinating insight into the species-specificness of melodies. One of the co-authors, David Teie, has previously shown that tamarin monkeys also respond differently to music that's been specially composed for them. The team now hopes that their study will provide the framework to compose melodies for more species.
As they write on their website: "A hundred years from now people will have to be taught that music was once available only to humans."
We wonder if, a hundred years from now, we'll also have managed to brutalise cat music with autotune.