Can a Cat Watch TV?

I’ve searched google in vain, perhaps because nobody really knows the answer, but I’ll throw it out there anyway. It’s been bugging me for a really long time.

My 2 year old female cat, who appears average in just about every way you could measure, occasionally wakes up from one of her numerous naps sitting on my bed while I have the TV turned on. She will directly stare at it for a while, as if she can actually perceive something, and then will loose interest and go back to sleep.

My question is simple. Can she actually see what is on the TV just as I can? And if she can why doesn’t the sight (or sound) of a large dog on TV bother her? Is she smart enough to tell the difference between TV and reality? Perhaps she is just attracted by the sounds coming out of it?

Someone help me out here… and please don’t tell me what a dog might perceive.

I’ve had cats that watched TV. You can see as their eyes track movement on the screen. They would react in the rare occasion a dog would bark, but it would be no more than a pricking up of the ears. If they were sitting close enough, they would paw at the screen when fast motion objects would go by.

A quick search on google should pull up a few news articles on a commercial aimed at cats a few years back. It was for cat treats, i believe. There was IIRC also a video made for a while with the sole purpose of entertaining cats.

Both my cats watch TV. They seem to prefer nature programs and cartoons. Occasionally they will get off the sofa and go and sit right in front of the TV to get a better look, and sometimes will try and paw animals that they see. A while back one of them was pawing at some lion cubs playing on the screen, and it was as if he was playing together with them. So “yes” is the answer to your question.

I got the video specifically made for cats as a gift. My cat ignored it. He has shown no interest in the television, but he is not indicative of all cats, to say the least.

Cats can definitely distinguish specific objects on a TV screen, as well. When I was a kid, we had a cat who’d bat with her paw at Pac-Man as I steered him around the TV set (I had an Atari 2600).

Oklahoma State University’s veterinary teaching hospital plays videotapes of birds for recuperating cats, but that doesn’t really tell us much.

A cat food company in the US is planning a half-hour TV show for cats…, which goes on to say:



R.J. Sorensen had enough faith to make The Kitty Show.

A forum, the Cat Arena, yielded the following in athread, with no citation to back it up:

There’s lots more like that out there, but I didn’t find anything of a rigorous nature. Apparently, though, many people think that cats watch television. No telling what they might be seeing.

My cats rarely pay attention to TV.

But, when the Discovery Channel puts on a special on cats, lions, tigers, etc., they perk right up & stare at the screen…for about half the show. Then they get bored, & go to sleep.

It’s not TV but my cat Mad Max hisses and swats at a large poster of a cat in my vet’s office whenever he sees it. My other cat Billy Toots ignores it.

Must be in the eye of the beholder.

Mama Maroon

Well, she’s not a cat, but my dog sure acts like one sometimes. Anyway, I’ve seen her bark at lions on the TV, and when we leave the TV on for her when we go out, we make sure that Emergency Vets won’t be on, for fear that that will bring back bad memories of the time she broke her leg.

My wife is a Veterinarian, and we actually had a discussion about this very subject a day or two ago (and I’ll preface my comments by saying that I’m just reporting what she had said to me, as it is me and not her that is posting this, and I am not a veterinarian).

We have four cats (and have had other cats in the past) and one of our current cats seems to actually watch TV sometimes. None of the others pay any attention, but Bertha sometimes stares intently at the action on the TV, and will occaisionally go up to the screen and bat at something showing on it.

My wife told me how unusual that is, and she said that most cats and dogs are not able to see TV images. It has something to do with our “persistance of vision” (actually I am the one who used this term to try and define what she was telling me, lest anyone think she studied this phenomenon or something) and the physical properties present in the human eye and brain that allows us to see television images do not exist in dogs and cats.

Sorry I have no cites or further scientific evidence or reasoning, but the thrust of what she told me was essentially that in vet school she was told that dogs and cats do not “see” TV, or at least do not percieve images on TV the way we do.

She seemed to know more about the details of canine vision (even though the OP asked not to be informed about this), and says that dogs are very near-sighted, and see in black and white.

Probably those animals that do seem to “watch” TV only see blurs and colors and such.

By the way Ferret Herder, what animals see on a computer screen (such as from your Atari 2600) could very well be different from broadcast images (which refresh at a 1/30th of a second rate, and interlace, or something like that)

My dog’s not a cat, but she thinks she is.

She LOVES nature shows. Lions and bears seem to be her favorites.

I’ve wondered in passing if some large mammals, bears, for example, may be making sounds too low for human ears to detect (like elephants use infrasonic calls to communicate) that might be attracting my dog’s attention. The same could be true for cats. Just a theory.

Both of my cats have the tendency to watch the computer screen from the desk. They can definitely see something because they will follow the mouse or other moving objects with their eyes and/or paw.

But I don’t believe it… MY cat could watch television and definitely had favorite shows. The rest of the time she just liked the static electricity in her hair and the warmth of the ‘great picture box.’

I’m convinced my cat could watch TV and was aware of what was on it. Most of the time time he interracted with the TV was when there was a fish show on the nature channel. He would sit on top of the TV and swat the fish from his perch. Most other TV was apparently boring.

This wasn’t on a computer monitor though, it was on a TV. Few if any homes had monitors at that time (must have been the early '80s IIRC).

I also had a dog who barked at horses, wherever she saw them. She’d bark at them in real life (at a distance of maybe a dozen yards, while inside the house and looking out a window), on TV, and on a drive-in movie screen. She obviously recognized them in all 3 settings. I did know that dogs see in B&W, however.

My cat (who thinks he’s a dog) will paw at himself in the mirror, swat at the TV and even muster up a pitiful mew every once and a while at the TV intruders. My other cat glowers at this behavior, and I can only imagine her thinking it is decidedly un-cattish.

One of my cats likes to watch TV occasionally. I find he prefers high contrast images, like red letters on black background – Sale! SALE! SALE!!! Things that zoom by really fast seem to intrigue him, as well. There is the odd show on the Discovery channel that he’ll watch, but I think it’s mostly for the sounds. Birds and whatnot. But there isn’t enough contrast in the Serengeti to keep him watching.

But the best TV time with Jerome was when we watched Disney’s Dinosaur movie. He must have watched for half an hour. All the contrast, jumping lemurs, the bird flying all over the map. But, alas, he fell asleep. So like a cat. (scritch, scritch).

I bought a tape for my cats called “Video Catnip.” It’s just video of birds and squirrels in a back yard.

Some cats are crazy about this tape, and some aren’t. All six of the cats I showed it to responeded to some degree.

One of my cats in particular loves this tape. When he watches it, he chatters his teeth. This is what he does when he watches birds out the window.

The first few times he saw the tape, he put his paw on the screen where the bird was. When he couldn’t touch it, he went behind the TV. When he couldn’t reach the bird there, he climbed on top of the TV and reached down from above.

He has favorite parts of the tape. He isn’t interested in the squirrels. He tracks the birds with his eyes as they move. His favorite is a bird that’s eating. When the bird lowers its head, he will creep closer to the TV. He’s stalking the bird on the TV the same way I’ve seen cats stalk real birds.

richardb - I’m sure your wife knows exactly what she’s talking about. The trouble is, she only knows what researchers have discovered. Cats are notoriously hard to study. Researchers just recently showed that cats can see in color. It took a tremendous amount of work to discover this. In a few years a researcher may be able to prove that cats have “persistance of vision” after all.

My theory about “persistance of vision” is that it relates to blinking. Since we blink constantly, the brain processes the images we see into a moving image. I think all animals that blink do the same thing.

The real problem is the huge distance between seeing something happen, and proving it according to rigorous scientific proceedure. Do my cats watch TV? Yes. Can I prove it? No. It will take a serious researcher to prove it.

A few years back I had a cat that liked to watch “The Cat Show” video. The video was of squirrels and birds. My cat chirpped at them, swatted at them, and climbed around back of the TV trying to catch them.