You might be surprised by how many cats are fearful of the television now that most of us have large, high-definition screens in our homes. The images pop right out at our feline friends and they have no way to know that what they're seeing isn't just on the other side of this big "window". Especially problematic are hand-held cameras because, to a cat, the things in the image appear to be moving instead of the camera. One of our cats is particularly alarmed by handheld YouTube videos and frantic commercials.
Phil W. wrote in to ask for help with his cat, Bran, who's become afraid of the TV. Phil, the only thing you can do is to try and desensitize Bran to the moving images and replace his bad feelings with positive associations. You can do this by offering him his favorite treats when the TV is on. Let Bran set his own pace and don't force anything upon him. Be patient and let him get used to the TV over time. Some sedate PBS nature programming could help a lot. It may also help to turn the TV sound off and to make sure the lights in the room are on. A darkened room with a big, bright flashing window is especially scary.
Believe it or not, Bran may take some of his cues from you. If you yell at the screen because of a great football play or feel anxious when he's in the room with the TV on, he'll notice your emotions and form negative associations with the TV. Your best bet is to ignore the TV when you offer Bran his treats in order to form a more positive association with the TV area. With a little effort and a lot of patience, you can maximize the possibility of success.
If Bran's a naturally shy and skiddish cat, you may have to accept his fear of the TV as something you'll have to live with. If that's the case, just make sure he has a bed, box, or enclosure in another room where he can feel secure any time he wants to go there. You never know - he may eventually become braver and venture out on his own, but it has to be his decision. Never force him to confront his fears. That will only make him mistrust you.
We wish you and Bran all the best!