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How Do Cats See the World?

How Do Cats See the World?

Cats are known for their enchanting eyes and amazing ability to see in the dark. But how do cats see the world?

You’ll be surprised to find out how cats see the world differently than us humans do. Keep reading to learn more about what your cat sees.

Cat Vision vs. Human Vision 

Special cells in our eyes called rods and cones are responsible for our vision.

Cones help your cat (and you) with day vision and to see colors, while rods are responsible for night and peripheral (on the side) 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 the red, green, and blue.

Red, green, and blue are what all colors are made from, so 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, but they don’t only see in black and white.

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.

They also don’t see green and blue the same way that we do.

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). This means that 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 much harder for cats to see. The cones to see these colors do not exist in the 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 we can, this doesn’t mean that they see those colors the same way that we do.

In fact, something that looks bright green to us will look more muted to your cat.

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

So, if your cat really seems to like his red ball, it’s likely not the color he’s responding to, but maybe the shape or the feel.

Image by Nickolay Lamm

Night vision – a cat’s speciality 

Cats have the reputation of being excellent night hunters. Their night vision is much better than ours and it is two-fold.

Because they have all those rods (special cells for seeing at night), cats need about one-sixth the amount of light that humans do in order to see in the dark.

They have another advantage as well. There’s a structure called the “tapetum lucidum” behind the cat’s eye that acts like a mirror.

That means that any light that enter’s a cat’s eye is reflected in that “mirror,” and makes things appear brighter than they are.

The tapetum lucidum in cat eyes are what make them appear to glow when you take a picture of them with flash. Other animals like dogs, foxes, and even cats have this structure too.

Cats “take in” more of their surroundings than us

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. Visual acuity is how clearly you see.

Cats have a slightly wider visual field (better peripheral vision) than humans do because their eyes are set wider apart than a human’s, allowing your kitty to be able to “take more in.”

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.

20/20 is the best visual acuity that a human eye can achieve. Cats, on the other hand, have a visual acuity from 20/100 – 20/200! This means they are very nearsighted.

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Cats are nearsighted 

Simply put, what all those numbers mean is that 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. In short, cats are nearsighted, which means that they see things that are close to them extremely well, but they don’t have good distance vision.

The reason cats are nearsighted is because of how they developed as hunters in the wild.

Cats have no need to see objects that are 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.

So 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-yellow range.

Put down the red toys and and try purchasing something your cat will be able to see better.

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.

Also, if you want your kitty to pay attention to what you’re saying (or have the greatest chance of them listening), it’s best to stand right in front of them because cats are nearsighted.

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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15 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!

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