Do Cats Respond to TV?

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Many pet guardians leave the TV or radio on when they’re not home. They hope that the background sound will prevent pets from feeling lonely, and provide some stimulation at the same time. Leaving the TV on can be beneficial if it’s used in the right way, but it can also be detrimental. Whether or not to leave the TV on really depends on your cats and your lifestyle.

Many pet guardians leave Animal Planet on for their pets under the assumption that it may make their pets feel as if they had company. I believe that for most cats, this may cause more stress than benefit. Cats are territorial animals, and hearing other cats on TV may trigger inappropriate behavior, including redirected aggression against other cats and/or inappropriate elimination and marking behavior. As much as we love Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell (as you can see from the photo above, Ruby REALLY loves the show!), the sound effects on the show are distressing to many cats.

If your TV is on all day when you’re home, leaving it on while you’re gone may be calming for your cats since it mimics what things are like when you are there. However, if they’re not used to having background noise all day, you may be better off leaving the TV off. If you decide to leave  it on, choose channels that provide fairly consistent programming without too many loud sound effects such as explosions and loud music. You may be better off playing classical music, which has been shown to reduce stress for cats.

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For the most part, Allegra and Ruby are not interested when I watch TV, but there are some things that will trigger a response. If a doorbell rings on a show, both of them will run toward the front door, expecting a visitor. The disappointment on their faces is quite obvious when it turns out that it was a false alarm. Ruby responds to babies crying with what appears to me to be distress: she starts pacing in front of the TV. Ruby also occasionally responds to movement on the screen. As far as they’re concerned, the best thing about TV is the warm cable box.

Do your cats respond to TV?

79 Comments on Do Cats Respond to TV?

  1. Himalayan cat
    June 3, 2020 at 5:47 am (8 months ago)

    A cat is like a little child. Leaving your cat alone with the TV on is like leaving your child alone at home watching Tv, with the difference that the cat doesn’t understand what is going on. If those beings appearing on TV are really there if they are harmful..
    I wouldn’t do that with my cat, but I will definitively try to play very soft classical music on the background to see how he reacts.

    Reply
  2. sunni
    April 24, 2020 at 8:38 pm (9 months ago)

    I adopted an 8 yr old female cat from a foster home, 3+ mos. ago. Jules is a wonderful cat..fantastic cat ‘manners’, very fastidious about her litter plan and never uses elsewhere..she grooms regularly, scratches only her scratching posts…etc. Not all destructive; playful, somewhat nocturnal though – playing at 4 am.! lol I’ve shared my love and home with cats for over 20 years…yet Jules is my first kitty who raptly watches tv! She lays next to me in my chair and intently watches all sorts of programming…BUT, very recently she has taken to ‘flying’ into her cat-cave when ‘suspensful’ background music plays…and I swear she seems to also anticipate impending danger in some scenes…like when someone is quietly checking out their home for intruders…and just before the ‘boogy man’ appears she again flies into her cave. It has become increasingly an action of worry for me. I wonder, could it also be of family members’ attempts to introduce their resident very friendly doggie to her that’s causing panic/anxiety?

    Reply
    • sunni
      June 3, 2020 at 5:38 pm (8 months ago)

      P.S. Since my original post AND aafter doing some research on feline sight and hearing and ‘studying’ Jules even more…I have discovered she cannot abide higher pitch musical instrumentation e.g., flutes, clarinets, violins…she LIKES, LOWER pitch sounds…alto, bass and baritone. She seems to prefer verbal programming and not drama, yet likes adventure. I am retired so I can monitor her tv watching. When I leave for short periods I leave the TV on Dr. Phil [yep!] and HGTV. She is MUCH MORE sensitive to TV than my daughter’s doggie who lives upstairs.

      Reply
  3. terri
    September 15, 2015 at 1:19 am (5 years ago)

    My cat, Itty Bitty loves Big Cat Diaries. He sits there in front of the TV watching the big kitties. It’s really kind of cute and funny to watch him watching it. He seems particularly fond of the leopards. I always change the channel before I leave for work though. I’m not sure Animal Cops Houston (comes on after BCD) is appropriate for my cats since most of the animals on those shows are abused and/or mistreated in some way. It’s depressing for me, so I would think its not to uplifting for them either. The images are sometimes horrific.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 15, 2015 at 5:54 am (5 years ago)

      I always tell people to not leave Animal Planet on for their pets when they leave home. I have nothing against the network per se, but so many of the shows have distressing sounds and images that could upset cats (and I personally can’t watch those types of shows, either.)

      Reply
      • sunni
        June 3, 2020 at 5:40 pm (8 months ago)

        I agree!

        Reply
  4. Jack
    December 29, 2014 at 6:54 pm (6 years ago)

    My cat pays very little attention to television and I often wonder why he doesn’t feel any need to investigate all the strange sounds that come from it especially while napping. It’s as if he clearly understands TV sound is benevolent white noise. However, the handful of times I’ve put cat shows he’s watched them wide eyed for up to 20 mins. He also loves watching bird videos on my iPhone.

    Reply
  5. Kate
    September 16, 2014 at 2:02 pm (6 years ago)

    My cat gets all wound up and violent every time he watches “Big Cat Diaries.” When I tell people this, they think I’m crazy, but he starts mimicking the behaviors of the big cats on TV. It got so bad that we had to ban the show in our house all together because he would start attacking my legs, etc. I imagine him saying something like “Hey mom, let’s play big cat diaries. I’ll be the lion and you can be the zebra!”

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 16, 2014 at 5:24 pm (6 years ago)

      It’s not unusual for cats to get agitated when they hear cat sounds on TV, regardless of whether they’re coming from big or domestic cats. Keep in mind that cats are territorial animals. The sound of another cat in their territory can be perceived as a threat. What you’re seeing with your kitty is redirected aggression. He can’t get at the cats inside the TV, so you’re the next best victim. For more on redirected aggression read http://consciouscat.net/2012/03/12/redirected-aggression-when-good-cats-attack/

      Reply
  6. Lauren
    March 8, 2014 at 5:44 pm (7 years ago)

    Rajah will respond to certain shows. Aladdin the TV Series being one of them. LOL! But only when Jasmine speaks and says his name. Whenever she does that, he looks up and meows. Another show he seems to respond to is The Legend of Korra. The funny thing is, I adopted him the same day Korra premiered!

    Reply
  7. Donna Walters
    March 2, 2014 at 12:00 pm (7 years ago)

    I have the television on in the morning. I sometimes put on Big Cat Diary or Meerkat Manor. Meerkat Manor is their favorite. They have no interest in the commercials though. I believe they are interested in other cats, and animals that appear to be moving across the screen, especially birds and mice.

    Reply
  8. Sheri T
    March 2, 2014 at 10:09 am (7 years ago)

    My cats all react when they hear animal sounds on tv. Kind of freaks them out since they are inside cats so the article makes a good point I hadn’t thought of. One of my cats gets right up next to the big screen and seems very interested when Jackson Galaxy is on but that seems perfectly logical to me. Ha! She also shows interest in movement but the others interest in TV is more likely the heat or getting between me and that thing that has my attention.

    Reply
  9. Lezlee
    March 1, 2014 at 9:09 pm (7 years ago)

    My kitty loves Big Cat Diary. When I’m getting ready for work in the mornings, it’s like he knows what time it is, at precisely 7am he jumps down from his tower, comes to the bathroom where I’m finishing my make up an cries till I go turn the tv on. Once it’s on he’s front & center watching & chirping to the “Big Cats”. I leave for work and he’s in his bed in front of the tv watching away. I leave the tv on all day for him and my Jack Russell, it seems to have a calming effect on them. My JRT loves “Bad Dogs” he’s very attentive when it’s on. It’s funny to watch them, love my weirdos!

    Reply
  10. Sheenagh Lee
    March 1, 2014 at 8:13 pm (7 years ago)

    My first rescue, Sweets, pays absolutely no attention to TV or radio. My most recent rescue, Pumpkin, shows very little interest in the TV except for ‘Big Cat Diary’. He will wake from a sound sleep as soon as he hears the opening music, take a seated position on the foot post of the bed and watch for at least 20 minutes before losing interest.

    Reply
  11. Jeannie
    March 1, 2014 at 7:48 pm (7 years ago)

    We had a cat that would try to catch Mario when we would play and one cat would try to would watch frogs go up the screen after one series on Animal Planet back in 1999.

    Reply
  12. Lyn
    March 1, 2014 at 7:40 pm (7 years ago)

    We were watching a documentary on penguins a while back, and as they formed a procession across the ice and snow, my cat Daisy started swatting at the screen with her paws. Then as the procession reached the other side of the screen, Daisy went round to the back to look for them!
    She quite often sits on my lap when I am watching my cat from hell, and occassionally there is a small reaction, but mostly she just purrs and falls asleep!
    I dont leave the tv on for her when I am out during the day, as I know that she spends most of the day on my bed asleep anyway!

    Reply
  13. stephanie
    March 1, 2014 at 6:50 pm (7 years ago)

    Classical music!! 🙂

    Reply
  14. Mrs. Potts
    March 1, 2014 at 4:49 pm (7 years ago)

    My cat has only shown interest when a video game called Don’t Starve is being played. There are birds in the game that sound just like real birds. She actual jumped on to the TV stand & hit the screen before anyone realized she was going to do it. Needless to say we are now working on mounting the TV to the wall so it is out of her reach.

    Reply
  15. KIMBERLY
    March 1, 2014 at 4:47 pm (7 years ago)

    I AGREE, FOR YEARS I HAVE LEFT THE TV ON BUT I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT I LEAVE ON FOR ME AS WELL AS THE CATS. I BELIEVE THAT I DO NOT WANT ANYTHING DARK OR EVIL ENTERING MY HOUSEHOLD THROUGH TV WHEN I AM HOME NEVERTHELESS WHEN I AM NOT THERE. I USUALLY LEAVE ON HGTV OR HALLMARK CHANNEL.

    SOME OF MY CATS WATCH IT BUT LIKE YOU SAID THEY THINK THE BEST THING ABOUT TV IS THE WARM CABLE BOX. BUT, BE CAREFUL AS I FOUND OUT THURSDAY NIGHT. IN THAT CAT VOMIT AND CABLE BOXES DO NOT MIX WELL TOGETHER. MY ZARA, THREW UP & NOT A HAIR BALL BUT MORE OF A LIQUID CONSISTENCY & IT WENT STRAIGHT DOWN INTO THE BOX VIA THE AIR VENTS. A MINUTE LATER I HAD NO PICTURE. TRY TO EXPLAIN THAT TO THE CABLE COMPANY. THEY DID EXCHANGE THE BOX THE NEXT DAY.

    Reply
  16. Carmie
    March 1, 2014 at 4:05 pm (7 years ago)

    We experimented by playing a video for our very playful cat, Bruno, called Winter Birds. He was very interested! Now, if we are watching television and there are any trees or animals anywhere, he jumps up on his perch (which, er, may be in front of the tv now) and watches. Is that bad? We don’t do this when we aren’t around.

    Reply

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