London – Most people will have heard music that sounds a bit like cats fighting - but it turns out that is not far from the kind music our feline pets actually enjoy.
Scientists have created what they say is the first species-specific music for domestic cats by replicating some of the sounds the animals produce themselves.
They say the music could provide new ways for cat owners to enrich the environments that their pets live in while also helping to calm agitated animals.
The cat music has been created by psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and musicians at the University of Maryland.
The music uses rhythms that mimics the pulsating of a cat’s purr along with melodies that were similar to their high pitched meows.
In tests against classical human music by composers Johann Sebastian Bach and Gabriel Faure, the cats showed stronger reactions to the feline tunes.
Just like in humans, however, the younger the cat was, the more excited it got about the music – with middle aged cats seeming the least interested.
Professor Charles Snowdon, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told MailOnline: ‘Lots of people think their pets like the same music they like and some laboratories require the playing of music as “enrichment”. But we have little understanding of what pets actually like. We looked at the natural sounds that cats make and their voices are an octave higher than a high human voice. They also have lots of sliding frequencies in their calls which are rare in human music.’
Together with David Teie, a musician and composer at the Univeristy of Maryland, Professor Snowdon studied the noises that cats make naturally to create their music.
Rather than imitating the noise that cats make, the researchers instead used them as inspiration to create new music.
The idea was to produce something that would be enjoyable for cats yet also not be unpleasant to human ears either.
They created one piece called Cozmo’s Air with a pulse running through it that matched the sound of purring with a rhythm of 1380 beats per minute.
Another track, called Rusty’s Ballad, used a rhythm of 250 beats per minute to mimic the rate of suckling by kittens.
The researchers, whose study is published in the journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, avoided using some of the highest frequency noises found in cats howls as they are often related to fear and threat.
Instead they used sounds that slid from one frequency to another at the lower range of cat vocalisations.
The resulting music sounds a little like cats yowling or someone learning to play a violin with an underlying purr beneath the melody.
They tested the music on 47 domestic cats, both male and female.
They were played three minute segments of either a cat composition and human music that alternated between two speakers.
The researchers chose Faure’s Elegie, which has a pulse rate similar to the human resting heart beat of 66 beats per minute and uses some sliding frequencies, and Bach’s Air on a G String, which has a pulse rate of 56 beats per minute.
They found that the cats approached and rubbed themselves on the speakers producing the music written for felines far more often than those producing the human music.
The cats were also quicker to respond to the feline-specific music.
Professor Snowdon said that their study showed music cat owners find relaxing would not necessarily produce the same effect in their pets.
He said: ‘Basically, human music is not very interesting to cats. We think that cat music will be more interesting and calming for cats than random human music, which most of us use now. It could also be of value in animal shelters where more attention has been paid to helping dogs so far than to cats.’
Professor Snowden is now also taking the lessons he and his colleagues learned with cats to apply to other animals.
They have already composed music for tamarins – small monkeys found in South America – after showing they are indifferent to human music.
Their work could help provide new ways of calming or exciting our pets and animals in zoos, he said.
He said: ‘They can be calmed with music that we designed to be calming and also aroused with music designed to be arousing.’