Computers have insinuated themselves into every part of our lives, from work to home life and entertainment. Now there are new apps designed specifically for our cats. The increasing popularity of smart phones and tablets has made using computer programs easier and more portable. Now computer programs for smart phones and tablets are beginning to make a significant direct impact on the lives of our pets and in ways you might not have thought about. For example, there are all kinds of computer applications (apps) that can help you keep your pet’s medical records, allow you to track your walks with your dog, plan a healthy meal for your pet or get pet first aid advice.
Now apps for smart phones and tablets have been created that are designed to enrich the lives of your pets. The pet food company Friskies has developed a series of games for cats (called creatively enough “GamesForCats”) that work on tablet computers. The basic idea is some little critter scurries across the screen and when the cat touches the screen to “catch” it, it either moves faster, changes direction or disappears for a second or two and reappears somewhere else. There are many videos on the GamesForCats.com website of cats (and dogs!) watching the screen and interacting with it. The Friskies games are free to download and may be worth trying with your pet.
There are other games for pets on the web, such as Paint For Cats. It’s similar to the Friskies games but at the end of the interaction, a colorful “painted” screen is created from the cat’s touches that can be quite beautiful. Why not capture screen shots, print them and put them on your wall!
Another website that has been around for quite a while is CatTV. Unlike the portable apps, this is a streaming display of simulated critters moving about the screen. There is no interactive component but it may keep your cat occupied with watching it.
Some things to think about in using these apps. To our knowledge, no one has done any rigorous testing of the games to see if they will hold the interest of pets for more than a few seconds or if participating or watching them is helpful to pets in any meaningful way. That is, do playing the games reduce problem behaviors, increase quality of life, or help with weight control or increase the pet’s lifespan? The companies providing the programs make no claims in these areas, but we often assume that enrichment such as this has some sort of beneficial effects. The programs may be no more than a way to kill some time for your pet. However, some zoos are now giving tablets to primates with the clearly stated goal of enrichment. One example is the National Zoo’s program Apps For Apes to provide enrichment for their Orangutans
Another consideration is wear and tear on your tablet, smart phone or computer monitor. The GamesForCats website warns that cats clawing the screen can damage plastic “screen savers”. There is one video of a dog playing with a GamesForCats game on a tablet, where he is clawing the you-know-what out of the tablet screen. I’m glad it wasn’t my tablet! Also a tablet or smart phone placed on a table or bed or chair could be knocked to the ground by an exuberant pet. It’s worth think about this before turning your device over to your pet.
Clearly, the application of computer technology to our lives with our pets is limited only by the creativity of those developing and using it. No doubt we’ll see more dramatic innovations in the future.