Why Britain’s cats and dogs have turned into Couch pawtatoes: New HD TVs that are twice as powerful as they used to be mean our beloved pets can FINALLY watch telly with their owners
- High-definition televisions finally allow pets to watch and understand TV shows
- Experts say dogs and cats respond to movements of animals that look like them
- This means your pet could be a fan of shows by the likes of David Attenborough
Did you catch the final episode of David Attenborough’s latest series last night? Or did you struggle to see past your own tabby cat to the Indian Tiger on screen?
For the five weeks that Dynasties has broadcast it is not just humans who have been transfixed by the footage. If posts on social media are anything to go by, it seems our pets have been captivated, too.
One episode, which followed the fortunes of a pride of lions in Kenya, saw cats pawing at the screen trying to touch their feline cousins. Another, about a hyena pack circling a male member saw hundreds of dogs mesmerised.
Nicola Hall says her cat Peach enjoys watching nature programmes and football on TV at their home
Never before has a television series been so universally adored by all members of the household.
And it seems it is not just the subject matter, but the way in which we now view television that is the cause.
High-definition televisions, typically bought in the past five years and gracing the living rooms of 72 per cent of the population, have not only enhanced our enjoyment of the box, but our pets’, too.
When humans watch television, they need to see between 16 to 20 frames per second for the action to look as smooth and continuous as it does in real life.
Since standard analogue TVs have always refreshed the image around 60 times per second, this has long been sufficient for humans to see a smooth picture.
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Animals track images at a much faster rate as they have evolved to hunt. Dogs need to see about 70 images per second and cats 100 to view TV action as clearly like us.
The 60-times-a-second screens appear jerky to cats and dogs. It is only now, with the latest HD sets, which refresh images at least double that rate, that our pets can finally see what we see.
According to Daniel Cummings, behaviour officer at Cats Protection, studies have shown cats can see outlines, patterns and textures.
‘As technology has become more advanced, it makes the images appear smoother to our pets,’ she says. ‘The size and detail on TV screens may make them more interested as well.’
There are other reasons your pet may be wanting to hog the remote. Dog behaviourist and trainer Adem Fehmi says: ‘In the old days, our screens were smaller and more likely to be stuck in the corner.
‘Now TVs are larger, with surround sound and mounted high up on walls. So when our dogs curl up on the sofa, the TV is in their eye-line and they are more likely to notice what’s going on.’
Goldie the cockapoo has her own Netflix dog channel and love nature programmes country file and wildlife documentaries
So given the choice, what would your pet really like to watch?
Experts say dogs and cats respond mostly to the movements of animals that look and move like them.
However, how dogs react — barking, running around, or turning a blind eye — is also down to their personalities and breeds.
Most of all, they will respond to other dogs especially if they are barking — as well as cats if they are already used to chasing them.
Adem, of dog training company Dog-Ease, says: ‘Very observant breeds, such as collies and other working dogs, are more likely to notice what’s on TV than lower energy types, like Shih Tzus and Chow Chows.’
Emma Mortimer’s cavalier Hammerton watching The Yorkshire Vet on TV – Hammerton loves watching vet Julia Norton – who also happens to treat him
Tamsin Durston, canine behaviour officer at Dogs Trust, agrees: ‘Dogs are a species that find movement stimulating.
And dogs bred to herd sheep might be so used to chasing moving things that the movement on screen triggers more of a response.’
Breeds such as beagles who use more of their sense of smell to hunt may be less interested in moving images than terriers and whippets.
Cats are lone hunters with more acute eyesight, so they are more drawn to smaller movements on screen — even following balls during football matches.
Cat behaviourist Celia Hammond says: ‘Their eyesight responds to moving images. Cats’ favourite shows are usually about wildlife — birds, mice, small rodents. Some of their attention may also be due to the sounds.
Daisy is a young dog who loves watching David Attenborough’s Dynasties, Daisy pictured watching it on iPlayer at home
‘Cats have the widest hearing range of all mammals. So they may hear things on wildlife programmes that we cannot.’
However, if you’re getting a new high-tech TV, there is one feature that may be wasted on your pet: Technicolor.
Cats see the world in more muted colours because their eyes are adapted to hunt in low light. Dogs do not register bright yellow and red.
But are we breeding a nation of four-legged screen addicts?
Adem says he sees about four cases a year in which dogs have fixated on certain types of TV shows, usually featuring animals.
Polo, eight months old, is obsessed with TV and his owner Alyson has to stop him playing with whoever he sees on the screen
In two cases, the dogs became so excited, they lunged at and broke their owners’ TV screens.
He says: ‘If a dog is bored and it’s not being exercised properly, it may start to fixate on the TV.
‘If it’s a Chihuahua which barks for five seconds when a show comes on, it is not a problem. If it’s a rottweiler who thows himself at a £2,000 TV trying kill the cat on Coronation Street, it’s another matter.’
So what do animals think is behind the television screen? Although some pets will look behind the set to check out what’s happening, over time most work out that there’s not much to get excited about.
Catniss loves to watch animal programmes like Blue Planet on TV – and tries to catch the fish
Feline behaviourist Trudi Atkinson, author of Practical Feline Behaviour: Understanding Cat Behaviour And Improving Welfare, says: ‘If the experience is new, they are more likely to react to it, until they learn it is harmless, and that there is no benefit to be gained from interacting with it.’
But as vets cite obesity as their biggest animal health concern, could the increasing amount of time pets spend watching television put them in danger of turning into couch pawtatoes?
Moderation is the answer, says Adem. ‘Television is no substitute for good exercise, mental stimulation and human companionship.
‘Just as with a young child, you wouldn’t want your pet left to watch TV all day long.’
SCRATCH OF THE DAY FOOTIE FAN
When Nicola Hall was looking for a new TV recently, she knew she’d have to go up a few sizes.
Why? So she could see past her Maine Coon kitten Peach — who is already twice the size of a normal cat and often stands in front of the screen to get a closer look at the action.
Nicola, 24, a retail assistant manager, from Nottingham, says: ‘Peach became fascinated with football during the World Cup. She stands in the way and follows the ball with her eyes, which is frustrating when England are playing.’
Nicola bought a 60in TV and took out extra insurance, saying: ‘She’s only half-grown, but I worry she’ll topple it over.’
SPANIEL WHO LOVES THOSE BIG CATS
Most of the time when Daisy the spaniel puppy watches TV she is disinterested. Daisy’s owner Jo Laybourn, 47, a carer from Chelmsford, Essex, says: ‘If she sees another dog on TV, she will just look up as if to say: ‘Oh, there’s another one like me.’
‘But when lions come on, like on Dynasties, she gets straight up, trots over and put her paws on the screen to get a closer look. She is fascinated by big cats and she wags her tail.
‘Daisy loves to chase cats in the back garden so must have worked out that lions are a bigger version — only these don’t run away when she barks.’
COCKAPOO WITH HER OWN NETFLIX ACCOUNT
Goldie the cockapoo is such a movie buff she has her own Netflix account of dog films.
Owner Debi, a model, from Pirbright, Surrey, says: ‘If it’s raining and Goldie can’t go for a walk, I put on the compilation which I created for her which has all her canine action adventures.
‘As soon as she hears the theme tune of one of her favourites, such as Air Bud, about a golden retriever who takes up basketball, she settles down to watch.
‘She will sit and watch from start to finish. I’ve come to the conclusion that she thinks the TV screen is a big window and the other animals live on the other side.’
But while Goldie will happily enjoy most movies about her furry friends, Debi, 57, says she drew the line at one choice.
‘One evening, I put on Ted, the film about a very rude teddy bear. She went berserk, perhaps because the character looked like her — but didn’t behave as she expected!’
CAVALIER WATCHES HIS VERY OWN TV VET
Not a week goes by when Hammerton, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, doesn’t watch his favourite programme — The Yorkshire Vet.
The Channel 5 series follows the life of vet Julian Norton, who also happens to treat Hammerton.
Owner, mother-of-two Emma Mortimer, of York, says: ‘He starts off in his dog bed with his friend, my other Cavalier King Charles, Dunsforth. But as soon as Hammerton hears the programme coming on, he bounces up and down with excitement. Dunsforth, meanwhile, does not even lift his head.’
Emma, 40, adds: ‘Hammerton runs to the TV and jumps up to get a closer view. Whenever he has seen his vet Julian, he gets up on his hind legs to watch more intensely. He also likes Countryfile and Blue Planet.’
PUSS LOOKS BEHIND TV TO FIND ANIMALS
Alyson Reay never sits down to watch television without a pad of paper by her side.
That’s because her cat Polo is such a fan he spends much of his time trying to interact with the characters on screen.
Alyson, 54, a social marketer, from West Horsley, Surrey, makes paper balls and throws them for Polo to chase, so he won’t stand in front of the TV.
She says he is drawn to wildlife programmes. ‘As soon as he sees other animals, he stops what he is doing, goes up close, stands on his hind legs, gives them a sniff and then paws at the screen.
When he doesn’t get a reaction, he wanders around the back of the TV to see if they are hiding there.
MOGGIE HOOKED ON TV FISHING
Like most cats, seven-year-old Catniss, a black and white moggie, from Chelsea, likes fish.
Owner Iona Kirby, 28, says: ‘Whenever I put Blue Planet on, Catniss will sit on the arm of the sofa and watch it intently.
‘When they show the underwater shots, she seems transfixed. She will go up and try to paw the fish on the screen.
‘She seems to eventually work out that they are in the box and she can’t get to them.
‘I think it relaxes her and she enjoys all the colours. I’m sure it helps that fish is her favourite food, too!’
To help cats and dogs in need this Christmas, go to cats.org.uk and dogstrust.org.uk
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