Can Pets Understand Smartphones? (Answered for Cats, Dogs and Birds)

Trying my best to get my cat, Bella to take a look at the phone, but she’s so uninterested. (And yes, I cleaned her eyes afterwards).

Pets yearn for our attention but we can’t spend all day with them as they wish, a major part of our day is spent sleeping and using our phones. That begs the question, what do pets think of us using smartphones?

Maybe they feel we should focus more on them than our phone or they don’t care at all about this.

Unfortunately there is no animal-translator as of yet, so we can’t get an answer directly from pets about their perception on smartphones.

What we can do is think of some possible perceptions, based on their behavior when we are using phones. Starting off, to see what a pet could see, perhaps we should go back to grassroots definitions of smartphones.

In school, you probably heard the over-simplified definition of software, that it is part of the computer that we can’t touch. (And yes, smartphone is a portable “computer” device).

Now, imagine if one couldn’t interact with the software or understand it, to them, wouldn’t this smartphone be nothing more than a lightweight brick?

But are we sure that our pets can’t interact with smartphones? If we investigate what kind of things can pets see on phones along with their behaviour, we can form some possible perceptions they may have.

Perception of Pets on Smartphones

Perception of pets can differ depending on the pet, as some can’t even see the contents of the smartphone very well, let alone understand it.

There is a large list of animals that can be tamed as pets but the most popular ones turn out to cats, dogs and birds. Starting from what kind of things can these pets see, and their behaviors, we can probably find the answer to the question.

Can Cats Understand Smartphones

Generally speaking, cats love movement and try to follow it every time just like how they like chasing laser pointers. Moving images or videos on your phone or TV can be interesting to your cat, but your mileage may vary, in fact my own cat ignores smartphones and TVs.

Also, cats rely more on sound than visuals, and although they can see more colors than dogs, they don’t see the same colors we see on our smartphones. So, videos accompanied with sound can be interesting to cats, but depends on the cat.

Alicia, a Quora user shared her story regarding her video call with her cats. Just like how a major part of our perception relies on memories, it seems to be same for cats too.

When Alicia video called her cats, they immediately recognized the sound and went to all usual places where they found their owner, only to be confused to not find her there.

Eventually, the cats seemed to understand that the voice was coming from the phone thingy but still confused that neither does it look like or smell like their owner.

But after some more weeks, they seemed to recognize their owner’s face and started licking the screen! They did understand in the end but it took a while. So cats can see and slowly understand the content. For more information regarding what cats can see, you can check out Can Cats See Phone Screens?

Now talking about their behavior around smartphones, my cat Bella, isn’t interested in smartphones at all just like you saw in the opening image. So it feels like it doesn’t matter to her how much time I’m spending on my phone or other activities.

It’s only been few months and I read that it can take years to form a meaningful bond with your cat so can’t blame her for not caring about me. She does roll over or follow when she wants to play though, or give signs that she’s hungry.

That makes me think, when we buy or adopt any pet, don’t we kinda expect the pet to instantly love us? But, Its not like the previous memories and habits get formatted with love for the new owner so just need to wait.

My friend Muz, a happy owner of 3 cats shared similar opinions about his cats not caring about him at all when he’s using phones or anything overall. The cats do ask for cuddles or food though, here’s one of his cats rolling for some love.

Cat in upside down position asking for cuddles.

This kind of behavior probably gave birth to the joke that the cats own us and not vice versa.

If we think about it, do our cats even need us? They are fully capable of hunting on their own if need be, so perhaps that’s where the pride comes from?

Still, not every cat is like this, many people have posted on forums like reddit, quora about how their cats love them and have a great bond.

If your cat has such a bond with you and does actions to get your attraction like sitting on you, following you or showing her belly.

In this case, the cat will probably be thinking why you’re looking at your smartphone and not her all the time. So our phone is yet another thing that distracts us from giving all our attention to them?

Could this be going on in the mind of a cat that has a great bond with their owner:

“He’s curling his thumb on that thing again…”
“He’s been looking at that thing and not me…”
“He’s talking to that thing again and NOT ME…”

Guess we’ll never know for sure until an animal translator comes out.

There has been some interesting progress in this with use of AI though, like putting tiny microphones on animals and then finding patterns using AI and their respective behaviors. Check out How Scientists Are Using AI to Talk to Animals if you’re interested in this.

Dogs on Understanding Smartphones

A fluffy Pomeranian dog looking at smartphone

Dogs, the pets known for their faithfulness to their owner. Compared to cats, dogs seem to express their love and crave owners attention more. In-fact, dogs love their owners 5 times more compared to cats.

Likewise, along with love, they are very understanding too, so if we are spending a lot of time on our smartphones, their perception of smartphones is probably a thing of great worth and important to their owner.

But can they see the contents of our smartphones and TVs? Well, it depends on what kind of smartphone and TV you have. For starters, dogs can see little colors compared to us so their ability to differentiate between colors varies.

This lead to specific streaming networks like DOGTV offering content in colors that dogs can comfortably watch. But, there’s another catch.

You have probably heard about smartphones or TV/monitors advertising about their “144hz” screen right, that’s in simply the speed at which the content refreshes, the higher the better.

Our old TVs and smartphones screens refresh at 55-60Hz and we can still see things well, but all dogs would see is some flickering images. So, if you have these at home, your dog probably thinks you’re nuts to even look at them.

For dogs to see content in motion, the screens would need to be at least 70-75Hz. Luckily, higher refresh screens are becoming more and more accessible in price and availability as technology advances and they feel more smoother to our eyes too.

But even when dogs can see the content on the screens, they will have a vastly different perception compared to us. Our perception is based on information from our senses and comparing that info to our memories and knowledge.

If a dog sees other familiar things on a 75Hz+ screen, it can find things interesting but us writing text messages or scrolling on a social media app probably makes us look like a weirdo.

A bit off-topic but whatever the dogs think regarding our use of smartphone , veteran Iain Booth suggests that excessive use in front of dogs can cause issues.

“A dog is a social creature, a pack animal. And to the dog you are the bona fide leader of the pack.

The dog requires constant feedback and interaction. It wants to please you – that’s simply how its evolutionary hard-wired.

If it’s sitting there looking up at you, but you’re too busy gawping at someone’s irrelevant snap on Facebook, you’ve got a problem.

You do that consistently for weeks, months and years on end and you’re going to get some real behavioural issues.”

Iain Booth, founder VetUK

At the end, it depends on the dog too. Some dogs will simply wait patiently until you’re finishing using your phone. While others may cause havoc, or start acting out to get your attention.

Ian put it into perspective well but I also want to give another perspective. Have you heard of the term “dog years”? If you haven’t it’s simply putting age of dogs into human age perspective.

The average life span of dog is just 10 years but when a dog has lived its first year through its birth, it’s equivalent to 15 years of aging for us. Similarly year two counts as 9 years, and the subsequent years count roughly 5 years worth of human aging.

That just shows how rapidly they are growing and even a single day of living is worth a lot to them compared to us. Considering this, when we are still spending big hours on our smartphones, it would no doubt have a negative effect on the dog.

Do note that I mentioned “big hours”, using smartphones in balance is perfectly fine.

Birds on Understanding Smartphones

Birds seeing another bird on smartphone

The case for birds is different compared to us, cats and dogs because they can see more colors than all.

You have probably heard that all the colors we can see are made up of 3 colors: red, blue and green. Now, anyone who’s color-blind may not have the ability to see one of these colors and all their respective combinations with it.

The thing with birds is that they can see an extra color called ultra-violet, and to this color and all its combinations, we are color-blind. We don’t know what these colors look like but we do know that birds can see more colors than us and have greater vision. So, yes birds can see the content on TV and smartphones.

But, birds can not only watch videos but also understand them, in this study, birds were shown a video where birds showed disgust to a specific packet of food mixed with some bitter flavor.

When birds were given both packets, they used the information of video and ate the bitter packets less after they witnessed the disgust of birds when they tried eating the packet.

Now considering they can see and understand videos (if they can relate to it), what could they think of us using phones?

That depends on how much attention they crave. Birds are social creatures and need some sort of social activity, that can either be in the form of other birds of the same type or us.

Although the birds would prefer talking with their kind, if they don’t have any, they still need some kind of social activity to remain healthy.

Birds, especially parrots that are even considered to have an intelligence equivalent to a 3yr old human, if they don’t have any companion and they haven’t had their fill of social activity so far.

Then they may call for attention which some might interpret as “disturbance” but it’s not really the bird’s fault. Probably thinking we are an idiot for ignoring it, it may scream or cause havoc to get the attention.

On the other hand, birds that have friends to talk to, they probably don’t care what we do with our phones as long as birds are fed and taken care of.

Conclusion

All pets see and perceive things on screens differently depending on their senses and memories. Depending on their bond with the owner, the perception of pets on use of smartphones may vary. Assuming they are taken care of and fed on time, most pets don’t seem to care what we do unless they have a strong bond with the owner.

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