Do Your Cats Respond to Certain Music? They Might Be Channeling Their Past Lives

Kathryn Dillon

Image by Norbert Oriskó from Pixabay

While studies over the past few years have shown that cats don’t actually like most human music, my experience with finicky felines hasn’t borne this out.

On the contrary, the cats who have blessed me with their presence beginning in the late 1990s have all enjoyed music, and have exhibited specific preferences that seem to defy all logic.

My husband and I have eclectic musical tastes. We own classical, Gothic metal, and almost everything in between. Over the years, we watched our cats’ reactions to the music we played and we noticed distinct patterns.

None of them liked the same style.

Therefore, we’ve reached the only natural conclusion — their musical preferences must be a reflection of who they were in their past lives.

“I have no doubt I was someone very interesting in a past life." — Patricia Velasquez

Nikoli — 1970s Prog Rock Aficionado

Nikoli, the original head of the Notorious Five Kitty Gang, was a bit of an intellectual (and a total space pet) so it made sense he’d have a propensity for the progressive rock of the 1970s.

Though prog rock itself has become a bit of a joke these days, “as pop-cultural shorthand for the oppressive arrogance and bloated self-seriousness of the white male boomers who made up its core fans” (David Hajdu), I like to think Nikoli’s interest in the genre was centered in its adventurous complexity and virtuosity.

(White male boomers, please don’t hate me — this female Gen X-er loves progressive rock herself, but I simply couldn’t resist that quote.)

I imagine Nikoli listening to King Crimson, smoking a skinny cigarette in a dim room with moody lighting and incense burning. He was probably in college, or perhaps his early 20s, and might have been regaling a young lady with tales of his experimental band or his adventures with mind-bending drugs.

Nikoli (RIP, 2014) also had an alter ego. Being the black velvet kitty that he was, we nicknamed him Barry White because he was oh so smooth.

Emily — the Hula Girl

We found it thoroughly amusing that Emily seemed to enjoy beach music, especially when performed by Santo and Johnny.

Our last house had a semi-finished basement that we’d turned into a subterranean lounge. We frequently spent time there, sipping cocktails and playing whatever music struck our fancy, often on a turntable.

Whenever Santo and Johnny came on, Emily appeared.

We joked that the steel guitar must have reminded her of her time on the beaches of Waikiki.

In her golden years, Emily mostly preferred classical music on the radio in her own private suite, where she wasn’t bothered by the younger cats and could spend quality time with her mama.

I noticed, though, that she started to put on airs toward the end of her long life (which sadly came to a close in pre-pandemic 2020), fussing about how our local station was curated.

“Mom, really, Mozart string quartets AGAIN? So mundane.”

Tommy — 1940s Romantic

Tommy was Emily’s brother. He had his quirks, to such an extent that my husband developed a special voice to represent what Tommy might be saying. While we sadly lost our boy to cancer in early 2015, I still make my husband recreate "the Tommy Voice" for me, when I need to feel that connection.

Tommy was partial to Trio Los Panchos. If you’re not familiar with this trio romántico, I won’t hold it against you. My husband’s record collection holds plenty of gems pulled from ten-cent bins in various cities.

But Trio Los Panchos, formed in New York City in 1944, is regarded as one of the top Latin American trios of all time, and our funny little gray tabby adored them.

Was Tommy, in a previous iteration, on the scene in Mexico City, where the trio relocated in 1946? Was he on the band’s touring crew, charming the ladies with tales of the road?

Or could he possibly have been one of the former band members, such as Ovidio Hernandez, whose untimely departure from this world was shrouded in mystery?

Buster — 80s Hair Band Wanna-Be

As a kitten, Buster liked the worst of the 80s hair bands (which he only heard because we were playing a lot of Guitar Hero around the time he came to live with us).

He was a rascal from day one, and full of cattitude, so it made sense that he’d obstinately prefer some of the only music his parents can't stand.

He was always a bit of a pipsqueak, too, so you could easily imagine him trying to be the tough guy, perhaps hitting the stage with an 80s cover band because he thought it would get him chicks.

He wasn’t totally shallow — just a little bit misguided.

Thankfully his tastes have evolved. We were getting tired of telling him that under no circumstances would we play Warrant’s abysmal “Cherry Pie” (outside of a game involving plastic guitars).

Now going on 13, Buster enjoys ambient music such as Massive Attack and the soundtrack from Twin Peaks. He especially likes Halloween, when such music is prevalent in our household.

Bella — Metalhead Extraordinaire

Bella’s always had her ways. Buster’s little sister was obsessed with metal when she was a kitten, the heavier, the better.

(Side note — Tommy and Emily did NOT like metal, probably because I listened to a lot of Rammstein when I first adopted them.)

We first noticed it when we caught Bella sitting directly in front of the speaker, purring with her eyes closed when Cradle of Filth was on the turntable.

Soon, we realized she’d come running from the far reaches of the house any time we played heavy music.

Logically, we figure she probably liked the way the reverberation of the bass from the speakers felt in her tummy, similar to what we experience as children when we know the parade is coming because we feel the rumbling of the drums far in the distance.

But we prefer to amuse ourselves by imagining our sweet little runt-kitten at the forefront of the Goth metal movement of the 1990s. Perhaps she was part of a band that used the “beauty and beast” aesthetic of combining a growly male voice with a melodic female one.

She must have had mad outfits. I’m a little bit jealous.

I don’t know if you buy the idea of past lives or cats who are fans of certain music, but I find it both entertaining and comforting.

If Nikoli, Tommy, and Emily had lives before those they shared with me, then who’s to say they haven’t embarked on another one? Perhaps Nikoli really IS in outer space, an astronaut or an alien — an adventurer for sure.

And Tommy? I imagine him as the shy, silent sidekick of some punk rocker, the one all the girls love but won’t approach because he’s so quiet they don’t know what to say. Eventually, the right lady will make her move and he’ll live happily ever after.

My grief for Emily’s passing a little over a year ago is somewhat assuaged by picturing her as the lady of the manor in a century past, pacing a great hall and ruling her household with an iron fist. She’ll still listen to classical music, but no string quartets, please.

Occasionally, though, she’ll find herself humming a beach tune, and wonder how on earth that song found its way into her head.


PBS — Cats Don’t Like Human Music, by Justin Scuiletti

YouTube — King Crimson (Court of the Crimson King)

The Nation — The Spirit of Prog Rock, by David Hajdu

YouTube — Santo and Johnny (Sleep Walk)

Wikipedia — Los Panchos

YouTube — Trio Los Panchos (La Paloma)

YouTube — Massive Attack (Teardrop)

Wikipedia — Gothic Metal

YouTube — Cradle of Filth (Venus Immaculate)

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I live and write in Northeast Ohio, about everything from food to mental health, pets to relationships, music, art, and sports. My articles usually have a personal slant because I believe we as a society and as individuals grow stronger through truth-telling and connection.

Cleveland Heights, OH

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