Why does my cat watch TV? An expert reveals the answer and whether it’s a healthy form of play

Bengal cat watching TV next to a toy
(Image credit: Getty Images/Svetlana Sultanaeva)

There's nothing more entertaining than seeing your cat watch TV — especially when they start pouncing at the screen. Not only is it hilarious to watch, but it's always nice to spend extra time with them on the couch.

Cat TV has surged in recent years, with more and more YouTube channels offering stimulating nature videos designed for our feline friends. Whether it's birds flying around or mice running about, the quick movements and prey imagery are an exciting combination for our cats.

However, there has been some controversy over whether it's fair for them to watch these videos. After all, it must be frustrating to see your dinner dangled right in front of you, and not be able to do anything about it. Unlike playing with the best cat toys, they don't get the reward of the catch.

If you're wondering why cats play with their prey, this feature can help. 

We don't know about you, but we have lots of questions when we see our cat watch TV. That's why we called in Dr. Rebecca MacMillan, an expert vet with 15 years of experience, to help with the answers. She breaks down why cats watch TV, whether it's safe to watch, if it's a healthy form of play, and if it can help desensitize cats to scary, loud noises. Let's dive in:

Dr Rebecca MacMillan
Rebecca MacMillan BVetMed BSAVA PGCertSAM MRCVS

Rebecca is a vet surgeon who graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2009. She has a wealth of experience in first opinion small animal practice, having done a mixture of day-to-day routine work, on-call emergency duties and managerial roles over the years. She enjoys medicine in particular and she is proud to have recently achieved a BSAVA postgraduate certificate in small animal medicine (with commendation). She writes on various feline and canine topics, including behavior, nutrition, and health. Outside of work and writing she enjoys walking her own dog, spending time with her young family and baking!

Why does my cat watch TV?

We treat our cats like they're our own children, so it's always exciting to see them partake in family activities (like watching the TV). Whilst we might put it down to them being 'one of us', you might be questioning the real reason why cats watch TV.

Dr. MacMillan explains that cats are good at focusing on quick movements and their eyesight is developed this way to help with hunting. As TV has lots of movement, it's likely to grab your cat's attention — especially if it reminds them of prey. 

However, she explains that their long-distance sight isn't very good. This is why you might find them sitting up close to the screen.

She says: "Whilst most felines would prefer to be out physically playing or hunting, TV can offer some temporary relief to those cats who have limited opportunities for this. It can provide stimulation for pets that don’t have access to a window to watch the world go by from either."

Ginger cat watches cat TV an iPad

(Image credit: Getty Images/Johner Images)

Is it okay for my cat to watch TV?

As humans, we're attached to our devices and are always looking for ways to reduce our screen time. So, should we be worried about our cat's too? 

Dr. MacMillan says: "There is not a huge amount of research into the impact of allowing cats to watch TV, but it is more than likely to be fine, as long as they are not doing it obsessively. There are no indications that occasional TV viewing will cause damage to your cat’s eyesight or health."

She explains that cat TV can be a great way to provide additional mental stimulation. Just don't forget to play with them regularly using the best interactive cat toys

She says: "Just be warned that some cats may get carried away and scratch your TV or accidentally knock it over, so always take care to keep your pet (and TV!) safe."

Frisco Fabric Teaser Wand Cat Toy

Frisco Fabric Teaser Wand Cat Toy

Featuring a colorful design and an enticing ribbon, your cat will have hours of fun chasing after this teaser toy. Our tester said it's great for keeping your cat active.

Tabby cat watching cat TV on a phone

(Image credit: Getty Images/Naoto Shibata)

Is cat TV a healthy form of play?

Cat play is an important part of your feline's daily routine and they need 15 to 20 minutes of play, two to three times a day. So, does cat TV count towards this? 

Dr. MacMillan says: "TV should not be used in preference to physical play, it is healthiest when used alongside other types of stimulation. The main issue is that certain programs can inadvertently lead to frustration e.g. watching a program with a moving mouse or fish.

"These sorts of programs may engage your cat’s hunting instincts, causing them to even pounce or paw at the screen. But this leads to frustration when your cat is never able to physically catch anything at the end of their game/hunt."

To avoid your furry friend feeling frustrated, give them a physical toy once the program has finished. That way, you'll keep them feeling satisfied.

Frisco Mice with Catnip

Frisco Mice with Catnip

Your feline is going to love these catnip mice - especially after watching some cat TV. Our tester says they look like real mice, and that her cat loves chasing after them.

Kitten pouncing on a mouse toy

(Image credit: Getty Images/NickyLloyd)

Can TV desensitize cats to scary noises?

If your cat is afraid of loud noises, like fireworks, you might be wondering if TV can help desensitize them to it. This might be helpful, but Dr. MacMillan says it's not 100% foolproof.

She says: "[...] Most animals’ hearing is better than ours and they are better at detecting the difference in frequency between the true noise vs the one that comes through the TV set."

If you do decide to give it a go, you'll need to introduce the sounds in a gradual, positive and non-confrontational way. Dr. MacMillan suggests playing the scary sounds at a low volume during the day in the background.

She says: "If your cat is comfortable with this, then you can gradually increase the volume on the TV set over several days/weeks, making sure they are comfortable with each increase before moving to the next."

Cat watches cat TV on a computer monitor

(Image credit: Getty Images/blue sky in my pocket)

What do cats like to watch on TV?

We can barely decide what to watch on TV ourselves — let alone deciding for our cat too! If you're struggling for ideas, Dr. MacMillan recommends programs that have fast movements, such as snooker or nature documentaries.  

She says: "This is what you might expect given most cats' natural hunting instincts. However, some cats seem to enjoy the same programs as their owners, but maybe that is just because they associate that particular one with being able to snuggle on your lap for an extended fuss!"

Just like humans, every cat is different. Whilst some cats might love binge-watching some David Attenborough, others might prefer the real thing and opt for bird watching in the garden instead.

Dr. MacMillan says that cats' eyes are adapted to dim lighting (opposed to the bright lights of our screens). So, chances are, the TV might be a little too harsh for their eyes.

If your cat does enjoy it, here are some YouTube channels to check out:

If you've ever wondered, 'Are cats playful?' this feature has the answers. To learn how to entertain indoor cats, check out this useful guide. 

Megan Milstead
Staff Writer

Megan is a Staff Writer on PetsRader, covering news, features and buying guides. She has a wealth of experience looking after animals, having grown up with dogs, cats and horses all of her life. She’s particularly interested in pet happiness and behavior, which she loves to research in her spare time. You’ll often find her watching webinars on reactivity in dogs or researching cat body language. She loves going the extra mile for her cats Chilli and Nala (who also help out with testing the best products for our buying guides). 

Megan studied BA Journalism at the University of Westminster, where she specialized in lifestyle journalism and was editor of Smoke Radio’s online magazine. She also graduated from West Herts College with a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Journalism. Before joining the PetsRadar family last year, she worked on the editorial team at Harrods and has spent most of her career writing for specialized titles, like RunningShoesGuru, Licklist and Mr. After Party. 

Megan works alongside qualified vets and accredited trainers to ensure you get the best advice possible. She is passionate about finding accurate and helpful answers to your pet-related questions.