Animals aren't immune to stress and anxiety that we experience as humans. They, too, develop fears that can be stimulated from visual or audio triggers, like crowded parties and loud fireworks popping on the Fourth of July. And sometimes, even the smallest of triggers like the sound of a doorbell can create a lot of tension.
On the quest for a fail-proof remedy for easing our pet's anxieties, scientific research is arriving towards the idea that music therapy can be a powerful tool. With this in mind, some companies, such as the insurance company More Than, have begun to put this theory into motion by creating sound therapy solutions for this age-old problem. More Than has created two free films to help calm animals who undergo anxiety, playfully titled as Woofering Heights for dogs and Peer Window for cats.
Woofering Heights, a title parody of the Emily Bronte novel, features images of beautiful pastures, lakes, and other natural elements all shot in a dog's color vision. The sound track and narration by David Tennant were carefully aligned with scientific data that has been shown to be relaxing towards animals... and truth be told, it's pretty relaxing for humans too.
YouTube commenters have praised the video. "This calmed both me and my dog right down," one says. "He was uptight and whining and he stopped shortly after starting the video."
It sounds like an amazing solution, but is it all just hype? Some experts weigh in on the subject:
Dr. Liz Stelow, who specializes in Clinical Veterinary Behavior at UC Davis, says that while classical music has shown to have a calming effect, there is little evidence that definitively proves sound therapy to be healing for pets, and that even classical music is typically not enough to soothe pets who are very nervous. "The ultimate goal for most chronic anxieties or fears is to use desensitization and counter conditioning to change how the pet feels in the given situation," Dr. Stelow explains. Combinations of medications, exercise, and routines like Dr. Karen L Overall's Protocol for Relaxation can alleviate pet anxiety.
Dr. Kelly Ballantyne, a veterinary behaviorist, is a little more hopeful on the theory of sound therapy for pets. "A few studies have looked into whether or not sound therapy can have benefits for stressed or anxious dogs and cats, but more research is needed to determine the best types of sounds or music to use and volume, as well as effects," she says. "Studies have been conflicting and some of the most recent data suggests making 'species appropriate music' for best effects."
Dr. Ballantyne explains that while giving sound therapy a try for pets that occasionally experience low to moderate-anxiety could be helpful, it is important for owners to remain near their pets during predictable stressful situations, or to visit a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist for sudden changes in anxiety.
The famous "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Milan has written in his blog about the benefits of sound therapy for animals. He says, "For me, if we help dogs connect to these things, things they miss, like the sound of water, the wind, birds... I think we are helping them become connected, because just like we disconnect ourselves, we also disconnect dogs."
While the idea of sound therapy is a very appealing one for our furry friends, most experts seem to agree that more research needs to be done in order to completely validate this theory, but it never hurts to try!