Humans enjoy pet ownership with all the health benefits that accompany this. But what happens to the pet when owners go to work, go shopping or do the myriad of other errands that busy daily life requires?
Pets at home alone
A report by UK charity PDSA found that 2.1 million dogs are left alone for 5 or more hours on a typical weekday. That is 24% of the country’s overall ownership. This is an increase of 5% from 2017. So, what companionship can these dogs experience when their humans are busy? Rehn and Keeling indicated that the longer dogs are left alone, the more stress behaviours were exhibited upon the owner’s return – which leads to owners feeling guilty.
The search for solutions to help decrease pets stress and their owners’ guilt, in times of humanisation of pets, has led to providing them with similar entertainment to humans as an answer. DogTV, RelaxMyCat/Dog and Cat TV are channels, some subscription based, designed to occupy cats and dogs visually and through sound. Images of nature, birds, mice, trees, other animals and soothing music are intended to create a calming environment and hopefully capture the animal’s attention.
The science behind this is clearly that both cats and dogs are able to see television images better, now that it is digital and higher resolution. But pets have reduced colour vision compared to humans – equivalent to red-green colour blindness, meaning that they see greys, yellows and blues. Cats have greater visual acuity, seeing things differently than dogs, but what evidence exists that it helps their wellbeing?
How do pets respond?
The PIAS (Petcare and Information Advisory Service) states ‘A television can provide all-important mental stimulation for dogs and help prevent boredom behaviour’. But how much are consumers willing to pay for these services? Global service DogTV is around $4.99 (€4.46) a month, or approximately double this amount for online streaming. Others are free to view on YouTube along with advertising.
So, should this be another service that the industry can provide for pet welfare? It has been shown that some pets pay no attention, or simply seem to respond to soothing sounds. A pilot study showed that dogs responded best to pop music or human voices rather than loud, ‘metal’-style music. However, it makes sense that rhythmic and gentle, familiar sounds can be enjoyable, just as they are with humans.
Does TV and sound alone provide the right form of companionship for pets left alone? There is also a range of opportunity within interactive products, such as toys, webcams and interactive treat-dispensers as well as automated feeders, to ensure that pets home alone are properly catered for. Just as with humans, the TV can help create a pleasant background noise, but also can only provide limited entertainment. The industry can benefit from creating more diverse opportunities for pets at home.