Do Cats Watch TV More Than Dogs?

February 4, 2015

By Linda Cole

I was watching a program on TV awhile back about birds. At one point I noticed several of my cats sitting in front of the TV watching intently. Other than a rare quick glance at the cats, my dogs didn’t pay any attention to the program we were watching. Cats have a tendency to watch TV more than dogs, because it’s easier for them to view what’s on the screen.

We can thank a handful of inventors for coming up with the idea for television, but the person credited with sending the first successful transmission on September 7, 1927 goes to Philo Farnsworth. He was a 14 year old high school student when he began to dream about the concept of TV while living on a farm that had no electricity. Ironically, after his invention became commonplace, Farnsworth wouldn’t let his children watch TV because he believed the programming was too dumbed down.

Radio waves fly through the air at the speed of light as patterns of unseen electricity and magnetism. When you turn on your television, a series of tiny dots of light called pixels flash on the screen in a specific pattern according to the video signal received. The patterns are seen by our eyes and transmitted to the brain where the tiny dots are organized into an image we recognize. We see movement because the image on the TV screen is refreshed hundreds of times a second, giving the illusion of movement. We don’t notice it because it’s faster than our eyes can see.

Images on the TV are nothing more than a bunch of still pictures shown one right after the other in rapid succession. This is called flicker fusion frequency. In humans, flicker fusion needs to be 15 – 20 frames per second; dogs need 70 frames per second, and cats require around 100 frames per second. Anything under the necessary frames per second causes pictures on the tube to flicker and appear more like a flip book.

New technology in television sets produces a faster flicker refresh, which makes it easier and more comfortable for dogs and cats to process what they see and identify the picture as moving instead of a bunch of still images that flicker. However, what cats see is different from what dogs are able to see. Felines have a sharper focus than dogs, and their pupils react faster giving them the ability to process visual information better than us or dogs, which is why they see better at night.

Dogs are also at a disadvantage when it comes to judging depth perception – something cats rely on when getting ready to pounce on a mouse. But when it comes to detecting motion and night vision, both dogs and cats are much better than we are. Cats have a little better color vision than dogs and can detect blues, greens and yellows. So what you’re watching, the brightness of the picture, and motion all matter when it comes to grabbing your pet’s interest.

With newer TVs, dogs and cats can likely see images on the tube in the same way they view the world, but whether or not a pet watches what’s on the screen depends on the individual animal. The only time my dogs pay attention is if they hear howling or barking dogs, although my mom’s dog would race to the TV when his favorite commercials were on and “sing” along with the jingle. For the most part, none of my dogs pay attention to what we’re watching. My cat Jabbers, however, will watch TV for long stretches – including commercials. He especially enjoys programs with birds and other animals, and car commercials that show speeding vehicles making sharp turns.

For dogs, the location of the TV set makes a difference. Sets placed in a location closer to their eye level makes it easier for them to see what’s going on. What is interesting is that dogs and cats are both able to tell the difference between a real or cartoon image of a canine, feline, other animal or person. They can see the movement, but since animated movements aren’t as precise as in real life they understand what they see isn’t real. Watching television, however, isn’t a concept they understand. To them it is possible a person or another animal they see on screen, especially if it’s prey, could be hiding inside or behind the TV set.

Whether your pet enjoys watching TV depends on colors, contrast, movement, location of your TV and your pet’s personality. Today’s TVs have a faster refresh rate, and cats are more apt to pay attention to TV because it’s easier for them to watch. If you still tune in with an older TV, your pet would probably just prefer to snack on his favorite CANIDAE treats while you enjoy your program.

Top photo by Rochelle Hartman/Flickr
Middle photo by Aaron Weber/Flickr
Bottom photo by Shan213/Flickr

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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