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What’s on TV this Christmas?

Home Alone, The Polar Express, The Muppets’ Christmas Carol? What’s your favourite Christmas movie? As you snuggle up on the sofa with your pets for some fun festive viewing, have you ever wondered if your furry friends are actually watching too?

According to animal experts, dogs find watching TV with their human calming, cats enjoy fast action movies, rabbits like programmes with music and pet rats like to see other rats on the small screen.

Vet Sandra C Mitchell says: “Dogs absolutely can see TV, and many seem to enjoy it. There are a number of features about television shows that dogs find attractive. Some of these are visual, such as motion, while others relate to the sounds coming from the TV.”

However, the level of viewing pleasure enjoyed by canines depends on a variety of factors. Dr Mitchell adds: “Just like people, dogs will get varying enjoyment out of the TV. Different breeds (and different individual dogs) have differing sight capacity, so some dogs may be able to see what is happening on TV better than others.”

For example, if a dog can easily see and recognise a canine chasing something across a screen, they may be more engaged than a dog that relies more heavily on sense of smell or hearing. Dr Mitchell adds: “Some dogs may be more easily ‘fooled’ by the images on the screen, while others are a little more perceptive in knowing that what they see is not real.”

A battle for the remote control?

She suggests that you can test whether your dog is interested in TV by picking a show with very active animals, such as squirrels, birds, or other dogs. Colours matter too. Because canines have different colour perception to humans (they have only two types of colour-processing cells in their retinas, while we have three) they will be attracted by blues, greens, and yellows.

Dr Mitchell says: “A dog running on grass with a blue sky behind them, playing with a yellow frisbee, may be very interesting. Watch your dog’s reaction to figure out if they like what they see. Are their eyes following the action? Is their tail happily wagging, or do they seem distressed and growling? Keep testing shows until you find one that makes your dog happy –and then hope that you don’t have to fight them over the remote control!”

Watching TV with your dog encourages them to be calm

Jacqueline Boyd, Senior Lecturer in Animal Science, Nottingham Trent University, says: “It is widely acknowledged that dogs do not watch TV in the same way as we do – a box-set binge means sofa time with their favourite person rather than catching up on the latest hit drama. But our dogs will probably be aware that we settle down and relax when the TV is on, so that association might be useful in encouraging them to be calm, even when we are not there.”

She adds: “Certain noises and frequencies will also either excite or soothe our dogs – my own spaniels react excitedly to the sound of pheasant calls common in TV period dramas.”

Cats like fast action movies

What about other pets, such as cats? Cats Protection reveals: “While some cats are not bothered by the small screen, others will watch intently, particularly programmes featuring other animals. Some studies have indicated that cats are able to identify imagery on TV, as we know that they can distinguish between outlines, patterns and textures. However, we do not know with certainty what they perceive the images to be. Cats rely much more on other senses, such as hearing and smell, to understand the world around them, so for some cats it may just be the noises they hear and fast movements they see that attract their attention towards the screen.”

The charity also suggests that cats who are more active hunters may show more interest in the TV than others, revealing: “If they appear to be watching the action and have their eyes open with narrow pupils and their ears and whiskers pointed forward, they could be stimulated by what's coming from the TV.”

Be aware, however, that if they are watching with dilated pupils and flatter ears, this could suggest they’re a bit worried by what they see and, just like us when we’re watching a scary movie, will want to hide behind the sofa! Cats Protection points out that this behaviour “could indicate that they are more concerned and stressed by what is on the screen, and so should be given the opportunity to run away if needed.”

Rabbits respond to their favourite theme tunes

Bunny expert Lou Carter believes that rabbits enjoy TV time with their owner because they associate it with positive things, stating: “Rabbits enjoy relaxing in human company. While watching television, a human is typically tranquil. This means that a rabbit can doze at our side, or better yet, enjoy petting. When your rabbit climbs into your lap, you ‘ll likely pet her without thinking. This creates an association in your rabbit’s mind. If you switch on the TV, it equals attention for her.”

She suggests that rabbits enjoy moving images, but to be mindful of the volume: “Rabbits have excellent hearing, so a loud TV can hurt their ears.”

Carter also suggests that bunnies have favourite styles of programmes – ideally those with bright, colourful, moving images: “TV shows with bright and varied colour palates attract rabbits. Static images will be dull. Chat shows, the news, or soap operas are unlikely to garner a response. Favoured programming includes cartoons, sports events, music videos and action movies.”

A familiar soundtrack may also prove popular. “Rabbits learn to recognise music,” notes Carter. “If a favourite song starts to play, your rabbit will respond. This could also lead to your rabbit developing a favourite show. If a programme fascinates your pet, she may remember the theme tune. Your pet will approach the TV upon hearing this music in the future.”

Nature documentaries are one type of programme to avoid watching with your rabbits. Carter advises: “Your pet will enjoy watching animals that move and behave in similar ways to her. Sights and sounds of predators will cause anxiety.”

Rats like to watch other rats

If you like to watch a movie cuddled up with your pet and you’ve got rats, a good choice would be Ratatouille or Flushed Away. It was once thought that rats have poor vision but, according to findings of a Belgian PhD study, rats can actually see pretty well.

Lead researcher Dr Ben Vermaercke reveals: “We know that their visual abilities are pretty advanced. We’ve done research showing they can tell the difference between a movie that features a rat and one that doesn’t.” Now rat’s amazing!



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