In 2015, two thousand British dog owners were asked if they left anything on to keep their dogs company while they were away. 38% of them said they would leave the TV on for their dog, while 22% said they would leave the radio on. The practice with consideration for man’s best friend – an animal far more likely to suffer separation anxiety than cats – was revealed to be far more common than anticipated.
But did the dogs like it? To get to the bottom of that question, psychologist Deborah Wells from Queen’s University in Belfast conducted research in 2002 in which dogs were exposed to both music and television. At a UK re-homing shelter, 50 dogs were observed in silence to get a baseline of behavior. Researchers then played one of four CD’s for the dogs: classical music, pop, heavy metal, and human conversation.
Classical music seemed to calm the room down compared to silence or human conversation, with a notable decrease in noise and activity, and with some dogs just choosing to lay down. While pop music had as little effect as the sounds of human voices, heavy metal actually seemed to agitate the dogs.
In 2017, the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted a study in which heart monitors were attached to the dogs before playing music, to get data beyond mere visual observation. Professor Neil Evans of the University of Glasgow hypothesized that they witnessed individual preferences in dogs for type of music – much like humans – with the most positive effects coming from soft pop and reggae music.
But what about cats? Foremost, cats have an entirely different range of hearing than humans. The common cat will simply tune out frequencies it doesn’t find relevant, and focus on higher frequencies like their own voices, an octave above the human voice. This explains why some people have learned to call their cat in a higher pitched voice with calls like “kitty kitty kitty” and so on.
It also means cats required a special study adapted to their auditory range. Psychology professor Charles Snowdon and researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison decided to create “cat music.” They tasked Professor David Teie with creating music in the cat’s range, set to a tempo of about the rate of a cat’s purr – as well as separate music that was close to the rhythms of a suckling kitten. While the 47 cats studied had virtually negligible responses to classical music, many of them did respond positively to these cat tunes, in some cases actually deciding to rub up against the speakers affectionately.
Testing dogs with TV has not produced any significant results. This is because, much like the human conversation sounds that had no visible effect on our test dogs, TV programming is also more geared toward communicating with humans verbally. And as far as cats, we already know about their unique range of hearing. So cats aren’t likely to care much about the TV either.