Maybe it's images of soothing landscapes or a high-speed chase, but it's hard not to notice when your dog perks up and pays attention to moving images on a screen. "Dogs can basically see television as we do," says Dr. Bernadine Cruz of Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in California. Cruz explains that HD television, in particular, refreshes frames at a faster rate, which can smooth out the images and make television viewing more realistic for our furry friends with such keen eyesight. Since the television can offer a ton of fast-moving intrigue during an otherwise humdrum day, it's not surprising that your canine likely enjoys channel surfing as much as you do.
Of course, a couch-potato dog raises all kinds of questions for owners. With the advent of dog-specific programming like DogTV, many owners might wonder if encouraging their dogs to veg out in front of the television is healthy and safe. According to Cruz, there's nothing wrong with turning the television on for your pet, as long as it's within reason.
"Until pets learn how to use remotes, we probably don't have too much to worry about," she says. "If pets are soothed by the sound of a human voice or fascinated by squirrels cavorting in trees, no harm should come from casual TV viewing."
She cautions, however, that pet owners should take care not to use the television as an exercise alternative for a stir-crazy animal. Obesity is a serious concern for humans and animals alike, so pet parents need to make time for outdoor bonding with their dogs rather than curling up in front of the television every night.
Moreover, some pets are not great candidates for television viewing. Dogs that are frightened by loud sounds or grow overly excited by animal images on the screen can start to display problem behaviors if the TV remains on for too long. For these dogs, owners should use soothing music rather than the television for daytime entertainment. Although these dogs are outside the norm, owners may find that the television is more trouble than its worth.
"Panic attacks from anxiety can result in bodily harm or destruction of property," says Cruz. "Behaviors can sometimes lead to excessive barking or could potentially exacerbate a separation anxiety problem." Know your pet, and turn off the TV if you notice that it's causing distress.
Finally, Cruz adds that owners need to treat the television as a nice diversion rather than a pet sitter. It's not a workable solution to separation anxiety or any behavioral issues that arise in your absence from the home. "If you believe your pet is experiencing behavioral issues, you may need to spend some more quality one-on-one time with your canine companion," Cruz says. If that doesn't help, seek the advice of a vet or a board certified veterinary behaviorist — rather than the television — to troubleshoot the problem.
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