How do cats and dogs see television? I know that they see differently, but does that mean they can’t make out the images on TV?

Cat watching birds on television
Cat watching birds on television
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A visitor asked on Quora: “How do cats and dogs see television? I know that they see differently, but does that mean they can’t make out the images on TV?”. The first and obvious point to make is that we don’t know exactly but we can make an informed guess as I do below. I’d welcome the views of others.

Cat watching television
Cat watching television. It looks like this cat is interested because there are animals (models) on the screen. Photo: Lynn Maria Thompson.

Boxing on TV

I can remember a picture of a cat watching a boxing match on television. The cat was mimicking the boxers with her forelegs while standing up like a meerkat on her hind legs. I don’t know if she was copying them but it sure as hell looked like it.

The eyesight of cats is good. It is very similar to ours with a reduced red sensitivity and an increased sensitivity to low light situations. So there is no doubt cats can see the image on a flat screen television that we can see. The unknown is whether they make sense of the moving image with the soundtrack.

iPads

I’ve seen cats with iPads! They chase the objects on the screen. There are cat games which can be downloaded for cat owners. The cats I’ve seen using iPads have been thoroughly engaged in the game as if they have not comprehended that they are looking at a screen and not a real life event.

Cat watching TV
Cat watching TV

This would indicate that cats don’t understand televisions and the difference between a TV image and a ‘real’ image. However, cats are very sharp at detecting moving objects. They have to be because they are programmed to hunt for food. Cats are also very switched on to sound and locating it. This is also part of their hunting skills. The iPad playing cats see fish for example swimming around as fish. They recognise and interpret the image as the would in ‘real life’.

I would expect therefore for a domestic cat to regard television images as moving objects and sounds. They will react to those movements and sounds that register with them as possible prey. What they see as prey is hard wired at birth in my opinion.

Cat watching birds on TV
Cat watching birds on TV

Conclusion

As uninterpreted images, cats see television as we do (they see the shapes and movements). They just interpret it all differently. We don’t know exactly how cats interpret TV images. However, it is likely that they recognise things such as birds, fish and cat sounds. Cats nearly always respond to the sounds of meows coming from a radio or television but most of the other sounds might be lost on them. I would expect cats to fail to recognise much of what happens on television so the images will remain uninterpreted. The cat will lose interest as a result.

My cats have hardly ever watched television. That does not mean that cats in general don’t. The interest in television images by a cat depends on the individual cat. There will be big differences.

P.S. I have not referred to dogs in this article. I don’t know dogs very well. I’d expect a similar response from them to TV.



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