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Music Therapy Has Been Proven to Help Sick Dogs

“Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.” That saying, actually misquoted from an old play from 1697, refers to the power of music to calm emotions. Research shows that music can successfully treat conditions from anxiety to autism, arthritis or anorexia—for people. If favorite songs lift our spirits, why can’t music enhance the well-being of our furry friends? Studies have confirmed that music is a valid treatment that can improve a dog’s health.

Teaching a dog musical tricks

Music therapy creates physiological and psychological changes. In a 2012 study, melodies lowered heart and respiration rates of shelter dogs by reducing anxiety. A pulse of 60 beats per minute slows brain waves, breathing and blood pressure, releasing endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers) in the blood and increasing relaxation. According to Dr. Mark Tramo, a UCLA neurologist and founder of the Institute of Music & Brain Science at Harvard Medical School, music heals through the brain’s mesolimbic system, which controls emotions and the nervous system.

Compositions with slow tempos and melodic arrangements are most effective to alleviate a dog’s conditions, including separation anxiety, noise aversion, excessive barking, fear of strangers and vets, travel sickness, aggression and destructive behaviors. Pianist Lisa Spector and psycho-acoustics researcher Joshua Leeds created a series, Through a Dog’s Ear, played in rescue shelters and many homes across the U.S. They teamed up with vet neurologist Susan Wagner and discovered canines prefer classical music played slowly. Pets also respond to soft jazz, New Age music and single instruments, especially harps.

Heavenly harps

From ICUs to ERs, the dulcet tones of plucking harps sound like a miraculous symphony of angels. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) tested the healing effect of harp music in Intensive Care Units and found patient perception of pain significantly decreased by 27%. George Washington University Hospital hired a harpist to play in the emergency room to comfort the injured.

Harp music heals both body and soul, says musician Diane Schneider. A study by the Mayo Clinic concluded that 30% to 50% of patients who received Schneider’s harp therapy reported improvement in fatigue, anxiety and depression. Tone, tempos and rhythms are even absorbed by skin, bone and muscle, and can regulate quivering heart rhythms. Since her “musical medication” was such a hit, the harpist has produced "Harp of Hope: Animal Therapy Edition” for pets.

Celestial canine cures

Veterinary hospitals are applying musical therapy in waiting areas, exam rooms, post-operative recovery, boarding facilities and for end-of-life care with great results. A Florida clinic treated hospitalized dogs with hour-long sessions of harp music to soothe symptoms.

A dose of music is an entertaining and affordable treatment without side-effects for the listener—whether human or canine. Think of it as a musical massage that helps the body heal itself.