Cats and classical music: relax at the veterinary clinic

“Music, I feel, must be emotional first and intellectual second”: Maurice Ravel succinctly identifies the elements that melodies touch in the human soul with this sentence. Music graces the background of both ordinary and significant moments in life, helping to frame memories. Joy, melancholy and serenity are just some of the feelings it can arouse, but what happens to our feline friends when they listen to music? Recent research by the University of Lisbon sought to answer this question.

Does the therapeutic power of the music work for cats?

Music is known to have therapeutic benefits for humans, especially for patients undergoing surgery, by alleviating the pain and stress they are subjected to.

The same is true for cats apparently, as demonstrated by the results of a study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. It seems music, especially classical music, can help our feline friends cope with major operations conducted under general anaesthetic.

The experiment

To reach this conclusion, the team of researchers examined 12 female cats undergoing surgery for sterilisation, recording their respiratory rate and pupil dilation at various points during the anaesthesia.

The cats were fitted with earphones through which they were exposed to two minutes of silence (as a control) then played one of three different pieces of music. There were three music genres: classical music comprising Adagio for Strings (Op. 11) by Samuel Barber, pop music, Torn by Natalie Imbruglia and rock music, Thunderstruck by AC/DC.

During this musical experiment, the feline patients were most relaxed listening to the classical music, less so with the pop music, while the rock music produced higher signs of stress. The results of this small study suggest that listening to some musical genres in the operating theatre, especially classical music, could allow for a reduction in the anaesthetic dose thereby limiting the risk of undesirable side effects.

Miguel Carreira, lead author of the study, backed up his theory that playing music around animals was therapeutic by talking about his own professional experience: “In the operating theatres of the faculties where I teach and in the private veterinary medical centre where I work, background music is always present because it gives the team, pets and their owners a sense of wellbeing.”