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How Do Cats See the World?

How Do Cats See the World?

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Cats are known for their enchanting eyes and incredible ability to see in the dark. But most people have no idea how differently cats see the world.

Thanks to innovations in modern technology, science can now show us what the world looks like through a cat’s eyes.

Keep reading to discover how your cat sees the world!

Cat Vision vs. Human Vision 

Let’s start with the basics.

Special cells in our eyes called rods and cones are responsible for our vision. Both cats, dogs, and humans alike have rods and cones in our eyes.

Cones are responsible for helping us see colors in the presence of light. In other words, cones are for day vision.

Rods are responsible for night and peripheral vision, as well as motion detection.

Image by Nickolay Lamm

Both cats and dogs have more rods than cones. Humans are the opposite.

We have more cones than rods, which is why we see color better, but we see worse than cats do at night.

Simply put, humans have three types of cones in their eyes to help them see red, green, and blue.

Red, green, and blue are what all colors on the visible spectrum are made from, therefore humans who aren’t color-blind can see all the colors of the rainbow.

Cats, on the other hand, only have two cones: green and blue.

Because cats have less cones than humans do, they see less colors than we do.

They cannot see all colors of the rainbow, but this doesn’t mean they only see in black and white either.

A cat’s color-vision is similar to that of a human who is color-blind.

What colors do cats see? 

Just because cats only have green and blue cones doesn’t mean that those are the only two colors they see.

However, cats don’t see green and blue the same way that we do. This is where science has its limits.

Scientists can’t determine exactly how cats see green and blue because we have the human experience of perceiving color.

However, scientists can still give us a good idea of how this looks like.

If you remember your color wheel from school, yellow + blue = green. This means cats can also see some shades of yellow.

Similarly, blue is used to make many colors, like purple for example (blue + red = purple).

Research suggests if your cat sees a purple object, it will appear blue to them.

How Do Cats See Colors They Can’t See? 

Other colors like pink, red, and orange are altered when cats experience them. The cones to see these colors do not exist in a cat’s eye.

Instead, cats sees pink and red as different shades of gray or black.

Even though cats can see some of the same colors that humans do, this doesn’t mean that they see experience those colors the same way.

For example, something that looks bright green to us will look more muted to a cat.

Think about how colors look in the low light of twilight – that’s similar to how your cat sees colors.

So, if your cat really seems to like her red ball, it’s unlikely the color she’s responding to. Instead, your cat is probably responding to the shape or texture.

Below is an image that demonstrates how colors are altered or muted to cats.

Image by Nickolay Lamm

Night Vision – A Cat’s Superpower

Cats have a reputation of being excellent night hunters. Their night vision is finely tuned to be excellent predators.

Because of their superior night vision, cats see an entire world that we can’t. Our eyes do not have the necessary structures to support night vision.

Because cats have more rods than cones, they need about one-sixth of the amount of light that humans do in order to see in the dark.

A structure called the tapetum lucidum in a cat’s eye reflects light back into the eye and increases available light for enhanced night vision.

In more technical terms, the tapetum lucidum is a retroflector that acts like a mirror for light.

Light enters the eye where it is bounced off of the tapetum lucidum and reflected back through the retina.

The tapetum lucidum is what makes your cat’s eyes appear to glow when you take a picture of them with flash.

Many animals like dogs, foxes, and even cows have this structure too. Humans and primates do not have the tapetum lucidum.

Pictured below is a computer generated image of how cats see in the dark.

Cats See “More” Than Humans

The major differences between how humans and cats see the world come from visual field and visual acuity.

The visual field is what you see in front, above, below, and to each side of you when you are looking straight ahead.

On the other hand, visual acuity is how clearly you see.

Cats have a slightly wider visual field than humans do because their eyes are set wider apart than a human’s.

This means cats have better peripheral vision, allowing them to “take in more” of their surroundings.

A cat’s visual field is 200º, whereas an average human’s is 180º.

Humans have better visual acuity than cats. You probably know that 20/20 vision in humans is considered perfect vision.

Cats, on the other hand, have a visual acuity from 20/100 – 20/200. This means they are nearsighted.

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Cats Are Nearsighted 

Simply put, a cat has to be at 20 feet to see what the average human sees at 100-200 feet.

Something in the distance that looks clear to us will look blurry to cats.

They see things that are close to very extremely well, but they have difficulty seeing objects at a distance.

Now before you start to think your cat needs glasses, let’s talk about why being nearsighted actually benefits cats.

Cats developed their visual abilities based on their role as predators in the wild.

Cats had very little need to see objects at a far distance.

Cats need to be able to hunt animals that are close to them, therefore they need to see at close distances with great accuracy.

If Cats Can’t See Most Colors, Why Are Cat Toys So Colorful?

You might be wondering why cat toys are so colorful if cats can only see in shades of blue, green, and yellow.

Simply put, the colors of cat toys are less about cats are more about the consumer – you!

Next time you’re picking out a new toy for your kitty, try picking something in the blue, green, or yellow range.

Who knows, they might like it more!

How to Take Advantage of Your Cat’s Vision

Cats are very sensitive to motion detection. Don’t get your feelings hurt if your cat ignores you for a bird or bug they see out the window.

Now that you know cats are nearsighted, try standing right in front of them next time you want your cat to pay attention to what you’re doing.

Cats are known for their beautiful eyes. What color are your kitty’s eyes? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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18 Replies to “How Do Cats See the World?”

  1. Hello,
    What a wonderful article. I learned so much! So, I have a question, with the glow of the light that bounces off cats eyes, does this make them the great hunters that they are?
    What do they see when they look at you or me? Very interesting article.

    All my best,
    Donna Rayne

    1. Hi Donna!

      You are correct – the glow in a cat’s eye you observe when you take a picture of them with flash is due to a structure called the tapetum lucidum. This structure helps them retain more light that enters the retina, giving cats great vision at night. Naturally, this gives them a distinct hunting advantage at night.

      In regards to your second question, scientists don’t know exactly how cats perceive people. They do know that the only colors cats see are blue, green, and yellow. They see the rest of the world in shades of black, white, and grey.

      I’m glad you liked the article. Thank you so much!

  2. Sweet Pea, my indoor multi color rescue tabby cat has yellowish green eyes (a little more on the green side), and Teddy, my outdoor black cat that have been caring for, for 13 years has yellow-green eyes.

  3. Have had cats for all my adult. This is my first cat that can’t see a laser pointer. It’s not that he is not interested, he appears not to see the red light.

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