How to Use Music to Calm Your Pet

White cat laying on the keys of a black piano

Does your dog or cat get scared during thunderstorms or fireworks? Do they suffer from separation anxiety? Or do noises outside make them bark or meow nonstop? Turning on some pleasing music or using a white noise machine for your pet can help relieve their stress and reduce barking.

Recent studies have shown that playing music reduces stress in dogs at animal shelters, with less barking, less pacing, decreased heart rate, and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Similarly, researchers have discovered that cat-specific music, designed to relax cats, significantly reduced stress and enhanced the quality of care for felines in veterinary clinics. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, as the effect music has on human emotions has been a subject of study for quite some time. Music therapy is an easy-to-use, natural anti-anxiety technique for pets.

What You Need To Know

Sound Sensitivity

Humans, dogs, and cats have remarkably different hearing abilities. Humans can hear frequencies ranging from 20 to 20,000 hertz (Hz). Dogs, however, have a broader hearing range, detecting frequencies from 40 to 45,000 Hz, which enables them to hear higher-pitched sounds and detect noises from much greater distances. Cats possess an even more acute sense of hearing, with the ability to hear frequencies up to 64,000 Hz. This heightened sensitivity allows cats to pick up on the faintest rustles of prey or other subtle environmental sounds. As a result, sounds that might seem ordinary to humans, such as the hum of a vacuum cleaner or the distant roar of an airplane, are significantly amplified for our pets. Understanding these differences is crucial when creating a calming auditory environment for dogs and cats, emphasizing the importance of using specific frequencies and sounds that cater to their unique auditory capabilities.

What Types of Music Are Calming for Pets?

Certain music genres have been proven to be more soothing for your dog than others. Reggae and soft rock are the most relaxing music for dogs in shelters, and classical music also helps calm down dogs in stressful environments. Other studies have shown that harp and piano music can also be quite calming. Cats also prefer classical music, intrumental music, and music without ultra-high or sub-low frequencies. As a result, cat-preferred music typically excludes percussions and includes piano and flute.

Variety within the genres mentioned above seems to be the most effective for anxiety and stress relief. After about 7 days of the same kind of music, dogs get used to the background noise and begin to show more stress. Mix up which stations you leave on for your dog, letting your dog enjoy some Bob Marley, The Eagles, and Beethoven. Dogs might have different preferences but the length of the musical notes, simplicity of tones, regular rhythms, and the music’s tempo are the most important calming qualities.

Music Composed Specifically for Dogs

There is even music composed specifically for dogs, whether it’s for generally anxious dogs, those with separation anxiety, fear of thunder, or for helping a new puppy sleep through the night. Watch how music artist Gnash wrote and recorded a song for his anxious dog Daisy.

Canine Lullabies (mp3 or CD) and the Through a Dog’s Ear CD set are two of the most popular recordings for puppies, anxious dogs, or dogs scared of loud noises. YouTube also offers many different options for calming pet music, ranging from an hour to 8+ hours long.

Spotify and AmazonMusic offer curated playlists designed for pets. Classical for Pets is an AmazonMusic curated playlist exclusively featuring classical music. This playlist spans over four and a half hours and includes 55 classical compositions such as Waltz of the Flowers, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and Claire de Lune. If you have Amazon Prime, you can ask Alexa to play Classical for Pets, making it super convenient.

Spotify has lots of ambient music therapy playlists for dogs like this one and tons of other bespoke playlists made just for your pet’s tastes. This playlist by David Teie has been used in multiple cat music research studies. And iCalm has a lot of great cat playlists, like this one.

DogTV is another great option. Utilizing research from animal behaviorists, veterinarians, and trainers, DOGTV features visual content in colors dogs can see, calming audio with specific frequencies, and programs aimed at reducing anxiety and boredom. The network provides relaxation segments with soothing music, stimulation programs showcasing playful interactions, and exposure segments to help dogs acclimate to everyday sounds. Put it on when you leave for a few hours or when you have an important Zoom meeting. Choose between on-demand videos with calming background music or turn on their live channel.

Specialized music devices like Pet Acoustics® Pet Tunes provide calming soundtracks tailored for dogs and cats. Here, ultra-high or sub-low frequencies are minimized and human voices are excluded to ensure optimal sound frequency for relaxation.

Other playlists we like:

Calming Music for Senior Pets

Unfortunately, hearing loss is a normal part of the aging process. With age, dogs and cats can become more sensitive to certain frequencies of sound (middle and high-pitched frequencies) as the nerves in their ears degenerate. High-pitched sounds may startle your senior pet and continuous exposure can cause stress and anxiety. To help calm your senior pet and provide a respite from sounds that may hurt their ears, put on music that is lower pitched and doesn’t have high-frequency sounds.

When to Play Calming Music for Your Pet

Your pet can benefit from music in a variety of situations, including:

  • Adjusting to a new home: Playing calming music can help new puppies, kittens, cats, or dogs settle into their new environment.
  • Alleviating separation anxiety: Try playing music when you leave your pet home alone. Consistent use of music, not just when alone, can help pets associate it positively with their surroundings.
  • During stressful events: Music can mask noises from thunderstorms or fireworks, reducing anxiety in pets sensitive to loud sounds. Try playing music while at the veterinary clinic during your pet’s exam or while riding in the car to help ease their anxiety.
  • While in their space: Play pleasing music when your pet is in their crate, puppy zone, or in their safe space.
  • For sleep: Helping a restless pet fall asleep.
  • To prevent barking: If your dog barks at any noise they hear outside, you can play music to help mask the sounds.
  • To enhance learning: Research suggests puppies may demonstrate improved attention when music is playing during a training lesson.

Tips for Using Music Effectively

  • Moderate volume: Pets have sensitive hearing, so keep the music at a level that comforts without overwhelming.
  • Consistency: Introduce music early and use it regularly to establish a calming association.
  • Experiment with Different Music in Different Rooms Try playing different types of music (classical, soft rock, reggae) in separate rooms and see which room your pet prefers to spend more time in. This can help identify their musical tastes.
  • Allow them to leave: When introducing something new, it’s important to give your pet the option to leave the room if they’re not enjoying it. If they choose to settle in another room, they might not like the music.
  • Watch their body language:
    • A relaxed dog will:
      • Relax and settling down
      • Fall asleep
      • Rest
      • Chew a toy or play quietly – the specific behavior may vary with each dog
    • A stress dog will:
        • Showing interest in the sound or search for the source of the sound
        • Move around frequently or becoming more active and playful
        • Pant, pin their ears back, lower their tail, or start to tremble
        • Bark, whine, or make other vocalizations
        • Leaving the room
    • A relaxed cat will:
      • Curl up, stretch out, and settle down
      • Close their eyes and appear content
      • Groom themselves calmly
      • Play with toys or engage in quiet activities
    • A stressed cat will:
      • Show heightened alertness to sounds or movements
      • Display dilated pupils, indicating heightened alertness or fear
      • Flatten their ears or twitch their tail nervously
      • Have a tense body posture, with arched back or flattened ears
      • Vocalize more than usual (meowing, hissing, growling)
      • Seek hiding spots, avoid interaction, or attempt to escape the environment

Using Music to Help Your Dog Get Used to Scary Sounds

For dogs that already get anxious or are fearful of certain noises like thunder or fireworks, you’ll want to work with a certified dog trainer to start a desensitization and counterconditioning plan. You can read the basics of this training technique in our guide here.

For puppies and dogs who haven’t yet shown anxiety or fear of loud noises, it’s worth it to introduce noises in a positive way to prevent noise phobia or anxiety from developing. Proactive and positive socialization is the best way to prevent fear and anxiety later in life. While most effective during your puppy’s imprint period (between 7 to 16 weeks of age), it can still be done at any age. Check out Sound Proof Puppy from the AppleStore or GooglePlay.

Music or Sounds That Are Harmful to Pets

  • Avoid music featuring reed instruments such as saxophones or clarinets, as these can mimic canine howls and prompt howling in dogs.
  • Steer clear of loud percussion instruments like drums, which can be overly stimulating for pets with sensitive ears.
  • Refrain from playing tracks with unpredictable beats or sudden loud noises, akin to thunder or fireworks, which may startle and stress your pets rather than soothe them.
  • Ensure the volume is moderate to low; dogs, in particular, have heightened sensitivity to sound. Noise levels exceeding 80 to 85 decibels can negate any calming effects, even in sedated dogs—similar to the volume of a standard alarm clock.

Reducing Noise Pollution at Home

  • Close windows to diminish external noises, especially if you reside near busy roads or areas prone to startling sounds.
  • Lower the volume on electronic devices such as TVs and phones, in addition to managing the music volume.
  • Incorporate rugs onto hard floors to absorb sound and provide a more comfortable environment for pets.
  • Turn off or unplug appliances when not in use to reduce overall ambient noise and potentially save on electricity costs.
  • Utilize doors to section off louder areas of the house, preventing noise from traveling throughout the home.

Creating Your Own Calming Music for Pets

For those interested in crafting their own calming music for cats or dogs, consider the following guidelines:

  • Maintain a low decibel level, ideally around 25, to avoid overwhelming your pets.
  • Use melancholic melodies with minor chord progressions, which tend to have a soothing effect.
  • Keep the energy level low, with no more than 95 beats per minute.
  • Opt for instrumental compositions rather than vocal tracks, as pets generally respond better to instrumental music.

Limitations of Research

The existing studies on the effects of music on dogs and cats are predominantly small-scale and short-term, primarily conducted in kennels or veterinary settings rather than homes. Furthermore, these studies do not establish meaningful impacts on preventing or ameliorating behavioral pathologies, improving health outcomes, enhancing the human-animal bond, or reducing relinquishment or euthanasia due to behavior issues. These outcomes are crucial considerations for pet owners, yet remain largely unaddressed in current research on music therapy for animals.

A significant challenge in evaluating this research lies in the variability of music types used and the diverse outcomes measured across studies. Terms like “classical music” or “rock music” encompass broad categories with substantial variation in musical compositions, which may not uniformly affect animals as intended. Moreover, assuming human aesthetic categories apply to animals overlooks species-specific responses to auditory stimuli.

Conclusion

While the research on music’s effects on dogs and cats continues to evolve, current findings suggest that it can be a valuable tool in promoting relaxation and reducing stress. Whether it’s classical melodies or specially designed playlists, incorporating calming music into your pet’s routine can enhance their well-being and comfort.

Where Can I Learn More?

Find out more about how to keep your pet calm:

  • Watch Dr. Douglas Dean’s 4th of July recommendations here.
  • See WoofDoctor on Wheels recommended:
    • Calming products for dogs here.
    • Calming products for cats here.
    • Enrichment products for dogs here.
    • Activity products for cats here.
  • Read:
    • How to Create a Safe Space for your dog here.
    • Everything You Need to Know About CBD for your pet here.
    • Desensitization Training for 4th of July here.
    • How to Update Your Pet’s Microchip here.
    • How to Get Your Cat Ready for 4th of July here.
    • How to Get Your Dog Ready for 4th of July here.

If you’d like to schedule an appointment or discuss anxiety medications for your pet, please call us at (843) 966-3362

References

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Bowman, A., Dowell, F. J., & Evans, N. P. (2017). The effect of different genres of music on the stress levels of kennelled dogs. Physiology & Behavior, 171, 207-215. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938416306977

Hampton, A., Ford, A., Cox, R. E., Liu, C.-C., & Koh, R. (2020). Effects of music on behavior and physiological stress response of domestic cats in a veterinary clinic. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 22(2), 122-128. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1098612X19828131

Kogan, L. R., Schoenfeld-Tacher, R., & Simon, A. A. (2012). Behavioral effects of auditory stimulation on kenneled dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 7(5), 268-275. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1558787811001845

Labbé, E., Schmidt, N., Babin, J., & Pharr, M. (2007). Coping with stress: The effectiveness of different types of music. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 32(3-4), 163-168. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10484-007-9043-9

Leeds, J., & Wagner, S. (n.d.). Through a Dog’s Ear: Using Sound to Improve the Health and Behavior of Your Canine Companion. https://www.amazon.com/Through-Dogs-Ear-Behavior-Companion/dp/1591798116/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Lindig, A. M., McGreevy, P. D., & Crean, A. J. (2020). Musical Dogs: A Review of the Influence of Auditory Enrichment on Canine Health and Behavior. Animals, 10(1), 127. https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/10/1/127

Mira, F., Costa, A., Mendes, E., et al. (2016). Influence of music and its genres on respiratory rate and pupil diameter variations in cats under general anaesthesia: contribution to promoting patient safety. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 18, 150-159. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1098612X15575778?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%20%200pubmed

Newbury, S., Blinn, M. K., Bushby, P. A., et al. (2010). Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters. Association of Shelter Veterinarians. Retrieved from https://www.sheltervet.org/assets/docs/shelter-standards-oct2011-wforward.pdf

Paz, J. E., da Costa, F. V., Nunes, L. N., Monteiro, E. R., & Jung, J. (2021). Evaluation of music therapy to reduce stress in hospitalized cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. Advance online publication. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10812302/

Snowdon, C. T., Teie, D., & Savage, M. (2015). Cats prefer species-appropriate music. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 166, 106-111. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S016815911500060X?via%3Dihub

Tilley, L., Smith, F. J., Sleeper, M., & Brainard, B. (Eds.). (2020). Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult. Canine and Feline (7th ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. https://www.amazon.com/Blackwells-Five-Minute-Veterinary-Consult-Canine/dp/1119513170

Wagner, S. (2010, April 1). The effects of sound and music on our patients and workplace (Proceedings). DVM360. https://www.dvm360.com/view/effects-sound-and-music-our-patients-and-workplace-proceedings

Wells, D. L., Graham, L., & Hepper, P. G. (2002). The influence of auditory stimulation on the behaviour of dogs housed in a rescue shelter. Animal Welfare, 11(4), 385-393. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/animal-welfare/article/abs/influence-of-auditory-stimulation-on-the-behaviour-of-dogs-housed-in-a-rescue-shelter/165099F5CFDA9550B703089A8CE1CC80

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