The sound of music in veterinary drugs

Is It Time To Prescribe Mozart? According to veterinary neurologist Susan O. Wagner, DVM, MS, DACVIM, an additional faculty member at Ohio State University’s Veterinary College in Columbus and co-author of Through a Dog’s Ear: Using Sound to Improve Your Canine Companion’s Health and Behavior The answer is one clear yes. At this week’s Fetch dvm360® virtual conference, Wagner presented evidence suggesting that sound affects animals on a psychological level. She encouraged participants to use certain genres of music to provide a more relaxed experience for their patients.

Before delving into the specific benefits of music therapy, Wagner gave a brief overview of some basic principles of sound measurement, noise toxicity, and the study of bioacoustics versus psychoacoustics.

Acoustic effects

At the most elementary level, sounds are waves of energy that affect the nervous system. The 2 terms used to categorize sound are frequency, which is measured in Hertz (Hz) and intensity, which is measured in decibels (dB). Humans hear frequencies from 20 to 20,000 Hz, while dogs can hear frequencies between 40 and 45,000 Hz and cats up to 64,000 Hz.

Part of understanding how sound can positively affect a species is to identify its adverse effects, Wagner said. As a reference, a normal conversation takes place at 50 dB and a lawnmower generally operates at 90 dB. Animal laboratories routinely achieve noise levels of 80 dB, with the intensity of human activity temporarily increasing by up to 40 dB. Hearing damage happens instantly at 100dB (think you’re standing next to a jet engine) or if you’re exposed to 80dB for more than 15 minutes, which is more common than you think, she said.

Although the noise level in a typical veterinary clinic can be harmful to employees who work a lot of overtime, it is the patients that Wagner drew attention to. “Researchers have studied the effects of noise toxicity in animals beyond hearing impairment,” she said.

For example, a study published in Applied Animal Behavior Science found that dogs exposed to sound shots at 85 dB had an increased heart rate and increased salivary cortisol.1 The sound also triggered postural signs of anxiety. Birth defects have been documented in mice and rats when the mother was exposed to noise during pregnancy.2 Changes in behavior were also found in her offspring.3

While there has been decades of research into the effects of noise on animals, Wagner said that the study of noise in animals has historically been categorized by bioacoustics. This places an emphasis on animal communication and the positive and negative effects of their environment, but does not take into account psychoacoustics. Psychoacoustics is normally only used in humans and examines the perception of sounds, psychological reactions and their effects on the nervous system.

Studying the physiological effects of sound and music opens the door to understanding how certain tunes can be used to calm anxious pets.

Music and animal welfare

“Music therapy and sound enrichment are inexpensive and easy ways to enrich the lives of captive animals,” said Wagner. “Whether it’s a short-term stay in a veterinary clinic or shelter, or long-term imprisonment in a sanctuary or zoo, sound can play a key role in improving the welfare of these animals.”

Sound therapy research has illustrated the influence of music in a variety of ways. In one study, cows were more likely to come into the milking parlor when signaled by music.4 “Behaviorists might say this is classic conditioning, and some of it can be, but it has to start with a pleasant stimulus,” said Wagner. “They play nice music to the cows and then they adapt. It’s a combination of classic conditioning and sensory relaxation. “

In a separate study, chickens that listened to music had increased growth and reduced stress.5 There is also evidence that animals may have musical preferences. In the same study, horses showed a decreased appetite when listening to jazz and an increased appetite when listening to country music.5 “This is an example of how one moves beyond bioacoustics into psychoacoustics. That makes perfect sense to me, ”said Wagner. She suspected that the different tempos and frequencies in jazz could be uncomfortable for the horses. Sorry Miles Davis.

Through their research that became the basis for Through a Dog’s Ear, Wagner and co-author and sound researcher Joshua Leeds examined how music at different tempos and instruments can evoke positive responses. More than 150 dogs were observed in home settings and kennels to see if they would sit, lie down, or even go to sleep while listening to certain music. “We found that the simple piano, with low notes and a slow tempo, made them the calmest,” she said. When listening to the piano in the home setting, 85% of the dogs went to sleep, compared with 70% to 75% in a kennel.

Clinical Applications

When introducing a patient who is showing signs of general anxiety or pain, Wagner suggests making a solid inventory of the home. She encouraged attendees to encourage customers to sit and listen to all the ambient noises in and around their homes in order to pinpoint overlooked stressors. This works in two ways by providing relevant information to the vet while also conditioning the client to make the noises their pet encounters more noticeable. “People are good at fine-tuning the sound of their surroundings, be it the television or something that’s going on outside,” she said. “But animals aren’t.”

A similar noise assessment should also be carried out in the veterinary clinic. “How loud is the conversation in the room? Are you drawing blood from a cat while someone right next to it is cutting a dog’s nails? It’s not about you and your need to keep things moving or about comfort, ”said Wagner. “What about the patient? Think about it from their perspective. “

Once potential noise toxicities are resolved, the right music can create an enhanced, stress-free experience. “To keep the animals as calm as possible, instrumental music is best,” she said. Animals don’t need the added stimulus of processing voices.

“Music reduces the complexity of the orientation response. When the patient hears the music, the sound resonates with their brain waves and heart rate, ”explained Wagner. “You get a physiological effect that affects the nervous system. That can be very helpful. “

A study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery showed that the breathing rate and pupil diameter in cats changed depending on whether classical music, pop, or rock was played during the spay procedures. Classical music had the most positive effects, while heavy metal caused increased breathing and pupil diameter, indicating a stress response. The response to pop was moderate.6 Research also showed that cats prefer music with frequencies and tempos similar to those used in cat communication.7

At home, Wagner said, listening to soothing music for just 30 to 60 minutes a day would help reduce the sympathetic overdrive of the nervous system in pets. “We can’t teach our patients to meditate, but we can use music to do something very similar,” she said.


  1. Beerda B, MBH Schilder, JARAM van Hooff, HW deVries, JA Mol. Behavioral, salivary cortisol, and heart rate responses to various types of stimuli in dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 1998; 58 (3-4): 365-3 381. doi: 10.1016 / S0168-1591 (97) 00145-7
  2. Koch RO, Nawrot PS, Hamm CW. Effects of high frequency noise on prenatal development and maternal plasma and uterine catecholamine concentrations in the CD-1 mouse. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1982; 66 (3): 338- 348. doi: 10.1016 / 0041-008x (82) 90300-3
  3. Nawrot PS, Cook RO, staples RE. Embryotoxicity of various noise stimuli in the mouse. Teratology. 1980; 22 (3): 279- 289. doi: 10.1002 / tera.1420220304
  4. Uetake K, Hurnik JF, Johnson L. Effect of music on the voluntary approach of dairy cows to an automatic milking system. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 1997; 53 (3): 175-1. 182. doi: 10.1016 / S0168-1591 (96) 01159-8
  5. Houpt K, Marrow M, Seeliger M. A preliminary study of the effect of music on horse behavior. J Equine Vet Sci. 2000; 20 (11): 691- 737. doi: 10.1016 / S0737-0806 (00) 80155-0
  6. Mira F., Costa A., Mendes E., Azevedo P., Carreira LM. Influence of music and its genres on respiratory rate and pupil diameter in cats under general anesthesia: Contribution to promoting patient safety. J Feline Med Surg. 2016; 18 (2): 150-159. doi: 10.1177 / 1098612X15575778
  7. Snowdan CT, Teie D, Savage M. Cats prefer species-appropriate music. Applied behavioral research for animals. 2015; 166: 106-111. doi: 10.1016 / j.applanim.2015.02.012

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