Next time you grab for the TV remote, don't be surprised if a furry paw already has control of it. Well, maybe not. But it's true some cats will actually watch images on television and computer screens, at least for a while -- and all kidding aside, even though you'll have to turn on the screen for your media-savvy felines, flickering images help keep kitties from getting bored.
While outdoor cats probably won't be as enthused by flickering images on a screen, shelter cats who don't have access to windows might benefit from having a TV as a form of enrichment. In one study, cats were shown different images; the most popular images were birds, rodents and fish -- natural prey for kitties. It's likely the cats in this study were attracted to the quick movements the small prey made on the screen.
Of course, the real question is: Can cats recognize what those screen images really are? While there isn't any research to prove whether cats can recognize what's on the screen, others animals such as monkeys and dogs seem to be drawn to images that resemble their own species, so it seems likely cats can likewise recognize images of cats. Still, it's difficult to know whether cats can tell two-dimensional images from their three-dimensional counterparts.
Two-dimensional images are a series of quickly-transitioning frames that fool the eye into thinking there is motion. But while these "flickerings" may fool the human eye, the flickers aren't fast enough for dogs -- the images probably look jerky or like a series of still images. Cats rank between humans and dogs on flicker fusion tests, so their ability to watch TV likely depends on darkness (it's harder to detect flickering in darker rooms).
According to the ASPCA, you can buy videos for your cats that will help keep them from going stir-crazy. Videos also help indoor cats to relieve stress, which is beneficial to their health. Popular visuals include flying birds, crawling bugs, climbing squirrels and wheel-running hamsters and mice. Cats can also be drawn to a quick-moving "computer mouse" as it darts about the computer screen or images online -- and there is a website made just for cats.
Can your cat get eye-strain from watching too much television? No, so you can relax and let kitty belly up as close to the screen as she wants. Probably your cat will sit sedately, but she can hurt herself if she tries to go after the image on screen, or if she is perilously perched and falls off. For that reason, it's a good idea to supervise your cat while she watches.