Can cats see tv? If you have seen this video clip you will understandably agree that they most definitely seem to be able to see the images on the screen! But are they having the same visual experience as us? Is watching the television the same or a similar experience to looking out of the window? Could you leave a cat with the telly on just to keep them occupied whilst you are out? Just how much are they seeing and understanding? Do they see other cats on the box and recognize their own kind or is the whole thing just some noisy box in the corner that occasionally grabs the attention via disturbing noises and flashes?
Read on to find out whether your cat is a soap or movie addict or just a mildly bemused kitty that can’t get any peace due to that racket coming from the weird furniture in the corner!
The human eye and brain see the world at a framerate of 30-60 frames per second. What that means is that when your brain sees 30 still, but sequential, images in one second you see a moving image that flows naturally.
You might have a setting on your tv that gives you a choice of viewing a channel in different fps values. The lower the value the sooner you are going to notice a stuttering image. At a frame rate of 20fps, your brain will detect that what you are seeing is not a flowing scene.
Dogs, who have evolved to hunt on the run, see the world at 70-80 fps. This allows them to catch the nuances of movement whilst they are at speed themselves.
Cats, who seem to have amazing reactions and can pluck a fly out of the air, are looking at the world through eyes/brain that operates at the 100 fps level which contributes to these amazing reactions and hunting skills – they simply see more.
What does all this mean for your cat watching television? Well if your cat is watching a screen that operates below 100 fps they are just seeing a bunch of still images popping onto the screen one after the other.
If the TV is set to human eyes at 40 fps your cat is just looking at a quick slideshow of images not a singular rolling scene.
Visual acuity relates to the sharpness and definition of what you can see. For example, when you look directly at the sun on a clear day you see a fuzzy bright shape – you don’t see the sharp edge of the sun. But when you look at a bright moon on a clear night you can see the edges of the moon with sharp definition. You are seeing the moon with a great deal of visual acuity but you are not seeing the edges of the sun with great acuity.
Cats have less visual acuity than us. We see in 20/20 vision. Cats see in 20/100 to 20/200. This means what we can see with clarity at 100ft a cat just sees a hazy image. To see the same object with the clarity we see it the cat would have to be 20ft from the same object. Check out some of these images to get a feel for cat vision compared to our own.
What does this mean for your cat watching the tv? Well, the images have been focused by the camera operator to suit human visual acuity – obviously…Your cat is unlikely to be able to distinguish all the images that you can without being way closer to the screen, and then only if the subject on telly is front and center. Long-distance shots are going to be lost in a visual haze for your cat!
What about color? Is your cat watching television in glorious technicolor? Well, no, they are watching it in dull-o cat-o-vision!
It is all about rods and cones you see. Cones are the cells on your retina that are responsible for processing bright light. We humans have loads more of these cells than cats have so we see a rich and varied palette in bright light conditions. They see a dull, lifeless palette of an image.
Cats have loads more rod cells on their retinas than us. This means they need one-sixth of the light that we need to see in extremely low light conditions. What is just blank darkness to us is a nice, sharp, grayscale image to your kitty.
What does this mean for a kitty that likes watching tennis on the TV? It means that the grass is not green but probably straw-colored, the orange clay at Roland Garros is probably just grey dirt to your cat!
The Cat TV Experience
What does all this mean for the cat tv experience when you stitch it all together? Well in the past, before televisions became digital your cat’s viewing experience would have been really poor! Slow frame rates allied to lack of focused pictures and an inability to see as many colors as us meant your cat probably just saw a screen that was strobing bright grayscale colors and emitting a variety of noises. It would have probably caught their attention without giving them anything they could genuinely follow and focus on.
Now tv’s have gone digital and fps have increased with digital technology. Many LED screens are available with 100-120fps. So, from this, you would imagine that your cat can now view a screen picture that flows rather than stutters just like you!
Not so fast. Even though your modern LED may have an fps to suit your cat’s brain, the device/camera the image was recorded on for broadcast or video matters. Many cameras and videos record at 60fps – great for humans, poor for cats – when they pump this tape through a 120fps screen they show each frame twice. The effect is that your cat will still see a stuttering image, but far smoother than 10 or 15 years ago.
Even on a modern LED tv, your cat is likely watching a slightly stuttering image, some of which it cannot focus on with some of the color missing. The experience is improved but falls far short of what we can enjoy.
Why Would A Cat Watch TV
Given that their visual experience with television is poor, why would a cat bother watching the screen? Here is what is probably going on when your cat is in front of the tv.
They actually just want to be near you – A lot of the time the tv is on when you are in the room and it stands to reason that your cat just wants to share a bit of time with other members of the household. It really has no interest in the latest episode on the box, it just wants company and a feeling of belonging to the household.
Curiosity – flashing images that go in and out of focus accompanied by noise may attract their curiosity and they may just be sitting there trying to gauge if there is a pattern to the activity on the box or whether it is all just a bunch of random noises and images. It may actually be similar to watching out of a window – if a cat doesn’t see 20/20 then even what they can see through a window may be restricted – but at least it will be at full framerate so won’t be stuttering like the screen in the room.
So there you go. Can cats see tv? Yes, but it is not the same experience that you and I have. Maybe once shows and movies are recorded at 100 fps as well as displayed at 100fps through a modern LED tv the experience may become more similar to window watching for your cat.