Do Cats Really Hate What’s On TV?

Can Cats Actually Watch TV?

It’s a common sight – a cat staring intently at a TV screen showing animals or bright moving shapes. Some cats even seem totally absorbed by certain shows and react by chattering, swatting, or lunging at the screen. So do cats really watch TV the way humans do? Or are they just briefly distracted by flickering lights and sounds? This article explores the latest research on cats’ eyesight, hearing, natural behaviors, and reactions to evaluate whether cats truly watch and enjoy television.

Cats’ Vision

Cats have significantly worse visual acuity compared to humans. While the average human has 20/20 vision, cats have a visual acuity ranging from 20/100 to 20/200. This means cats have to be 20 feet away to see what humans can see clearly from 100-200 feet away (

Because of their lower visual acuity, cats see images at a much lower resolution and with less detail than humans. Their vision is blurry and lacks sharpness. So when cats look at a TV screen, they cannot see the picture nearly as clearly as humans can. The images likely appear quite fuzzy and indistinct to cats (

So while cats can physically see the changing images on a TV screen, they cannot make out anywhere near the level of detail that humans can. The picture quality cats perceive is far inferior. This likely diminishes any interest cats have in watching TV, since the blurry imagery provides limited visual stimulation.

Cats’ Hearing

Cats have excellent hearing that is superior to humans and dogs. According to a study by Heffner in 1985 published in Behavioral Neuroscience, the hearing range of cats extends from 48 Hz to 85 kHz with a threshold of 0 dB, which gives cats one of the widest hearing ranges among mammals [1]. In comparison, the human hearing range is typically 20 Hz to 20 kHz.

Within their hearing range, cats can detect sounds as quiet as 0 dB, which is significantly more sensitive than the human threshold of 10-20 dB in the middle frequencies. This means cats can hear very faint sounds from farther away. Their sensitive ears and ability to pinpoint sound location helps cats detect and hunt prey.

Since cats can hear higher frequency sounds up to 85 kHz, they are able to hear audio from TVs, which typically have frequency ranges of 50 Hz to 15 kHz. However, cats likely do not perceive TV sounds and voices the same way humans do. High-pitched sounds from TVs are audible to cats, but lower frequencies are less clear. Additionally, cats have difficulty determining where TV sounds originate from since the sounds lack dimensionality.

Natural Behaviors

Cats are natural hunters with strong predatory instincts. They are highly sensitive to movement and will focus intently on anything that catches their attention. Small prey animals like mice, birds, and insects trigger cats’ instincts to stalk, chase and pounce. According to Is Cat TV Really Good For Cats?, “When cats see birds, mice or other animals moving on the television screen, it can activate their natural hunting behaviors” (

The moving images and sounds coming from the TV can mimic prey animals in a cat’s environment. As explained in Why does my cat think that mice on the TV are real and attack the TV, “This can trigger their hunting behavior, leading them to try to catch or attack the images on the TV. It’s similar to how cats might react to seeing real prey outside through a window” ( So for some cats, the TV ends up triggering their instincts to hunt, even though the prey isn’t real.


Overstimulation occurs when a cat is exposed to too much sensory input that it finds unpleasant or stressful (source 1). This can be caused by sounds, sights, smells, touch, or a combination of these stimuli. Signs that a cat is becoming overstimulated include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Flattened ears
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Excessive meowing or crying
  • Aggressive behaviors like biting, scratching or swatting
  • Hiding or running away

The sounds and visuals from TV can potentially cause overstimulation in cats. This is because cats have sensitive hearing and vision that is tuned for hunting (source 2). Rapid movements and high frequency sounds from the TV can overtax their senses. Some cats may become transfixed by the TV visuals due to their predatory instincts. Others may find the lights and sounds frightening or annoying. Excessive exposure can stress out cats and cause reactions like agitation, anxiety, or aggression (source 3). Not all cats react the same way, but it’s important for owners to notice if TV is overstimulating their pet.


Indoor cats can get easily bored since they don’t have the enriching outdoor environments that outdoor cats do. A lack of stimulation is one of the main causes of boredom in indoor cats. Without enough mental and physical activity to keep them engaged, indoor cats can begin to sleep excessively, overeat, or exhibit behavioral issues like aggression or inappropriate elimination.

Some cat owners wonder if leaving the TV on for their cats can help provide mental stimulation when they are bored. Evidence on this is mixed. Some experts believe TV can grab cats’ attention initially but does not provide lasting mental engagement. The quick movements and sounds may seem interesting at first, but do not satisfy cats’ natural instincts to hunt, climb, scratch, etc. Other experts think TV can be enriching for cats in moderation, similar to “cat TV” videos of birds and prey that some owners use. The key is monitoring your individual cat’s reactions. If your cat is intrigued and seems to be watching the TV attentively, it may provide some enrichment. But if your cat seems overstimulated, stressed, or annoyed by the TV, it’s likely best to turn it off.

Stress and Anxiety

Cats can experience stress and anxiety from overstimulation, including from watching too much television. Visuals and sounds from TV can overstimulate a cat’s keen senses of sight and hearing designed for hunting, which can induce stress (Is Cat TV Really Good For Cats?). Flashing images, quick scene changes, and loud noises in particular are unnatural stimuli that can overwhelm cats and trigger their fight-or-flight response (Can Cats Watch TV?). This leads to symptoms of stress like dilated pupils, agitation, hiding, loss of appetite, and aggressive behavior.

Studies show television causes stress hormone releases and increased heart rates in cats, indicating high anxiety levels (Does TV Stress Cats?). These effects can compound over time with prolonged TV viewing. Cats may cope with TV stress by scratching furniture, displaying aggressive behavior, or suffering other health issues related to chronic anxiety. Providing appropriate stimulation through playtime, environmental enrichment, and interacting with human guardians can help prevent boredom and stress from excessive television.


To manage cats’ TV exposure, limit the duration and frequency of TV time. The ASPCA recommends keeping TV sessions for cats under an hour or two per day maximum. Turn off the TV when no one is actively watching. Try to avoid leaving the TV on all day as background noise.

Instead of TV, focus on providing more interactive forms of enrichment. According to cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, better alternatives include playing with wand toys, presenting new smells, and creating foraging opportunities by hiding treats around the home. Rotating different types of toys helps keep cats engaged. Placing bird feeders outside windows gives cats relaxing nature viewing. Cat towers, puzzle feeders, and scratching posts also provide enriching activity.

Individual Differences

Reactions to TV can vary greatly between individual cats based on their unique personalities and preferences. Some cats may be highly sensitive to the visual stimulus and find TVs overstimulating, while others are able to tune it out. Vocal cats may be more disturbed by TV sounds than quiet cats. Kittens and younger cats often have an innate curiosity and interest in TV that fades as they mature. Older cats tend to be less tolerant of loud sounds from TVs. Monitoring your cat’s body language and behavior is the best way to gauge their response.

Look for signs of stress like pupils dilating, ears flattening back, hiding, restlessness, aggression, excessive vocalization, loss of appetite, and changes in sleep or litter box habits. If your cat seems bothered, try turning off the TV to see if they relax. You can also experiment with volume levels. Placing the TV in a less central location, facing it away from your cat’s favorite spots, or limiting TV time may help sensitive cats. Providing background noise like soft music when the TV is off can mask sudden volume changes. Ultimately each cat has unique sensitivities, so being attuned to your individual cat’s signals is key.


In summary, while some cats may enjoy watching television, especially nature programs with birds and small animals, too much TV can potentially cause overstimulation and stress for many cats. Cats have evolved as hunters reliant on keen vision and hearing, so the fast-moving images, lights, and sounds from the television can be unnatural and annoying for them. Though every cat has individual preferences, it’s best not to leave the TV on constantly for your cat. Instead, limit television time and ensure your cat has plenty of playtime, environmental enrichment, and relaxation. Overall, the research indicates that extended television viewing is likely an undesirable annoyance rather than an enriching entertainment source for most cats.

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