As you settle in for a marathon Netflix session or just a quick recap of the nightly news, are you regularly accompanied by your four-legged companion? Is your dog quick to react to the sight or sounds of other dogs on TV? Does your cat race around your living room looking for the lions in that National Geographic special?
Many pet owners claim their pets watch TV, but is this true? Are dogs and cats capable of understanding what they see on the “boob tube” and, if so, how does this affect them?
Signs Point to “Yes”
Plenty of evidence suggests that dogs in particular can perceive and register the images they see on television, even the appearance of an animal they’ve never seen before. A 2013 study published in Animal Cognition found that when shown pictures of humans, dogs, and other animals, dogs can readily identify images of fellow canines.
Like people, not all pets find watching TV particularly interesting or enjoyable. How much your pet stays glued to the tube depends largely on their prey drive. For example, certain dog breeds, such as terriers and other herding dogs, tend to be more interested in fast moving objects on the screen. The same goes for cats with a strong hunting instinct.
Many dogs, regardless of whether or not they watch television, react to the sound of another dog barking or a doorbell ringing on TV.
Helping Pets Watch TV
It probably comes as no surprise that the pet product industry has taken notice of the fact that many pets watch TV, resulting in a variety of ways to include Fido or Fluffy in one of America’s favorite pastimes.
- DVDs for cats is a fun way to entertain kitty. They can enjoy the soothing and exciting images of birds, insects, or other flora and fauna as a way to combat boredom and stimulate their hunting and foraging instincts.
- DogTV, an HDTV channel, offers your dog a canine-centered viewing experience. Besides having a higher number of frames per second than the average channel (making it easier for dogs to see clearly), DogTV is colored to accommodate your dog’s dichromatic vision.
Too Much Screen Time?
Although it’s highly unlikely that watching TV is going to hurt your pet’s eyes or lower their intelligence, it can lead to other problems. For example, cats with a high prey drive may become frustrated when their repeated attempts to “hunt” the critter on the screen result in failure. Overly enthusiastic pets may even knock the television over in an attempt to interact with the animals or people they observe.
A Happy Medium
Finding a variety of outlets for your pet’s extra energy and curiosity is essential to their overall happiness and well being. Besides the occasional TV show, you can engage your pet in the following ways:
- Daily exercise – Take your pet on walks or hikes (try leash training for cats) or get them going with a game of fetch or feather chase.
- Mental stimulation – Food puzzles, DIY toys, obedience training, and clicker training for cats are all great ways to keep your pet’s mind active and engaged.
- Indoor/outdoor options – Indoor cats can benefit from a catio, potted cat grass, or a bird feeder placed outside their favorite window.