—Feline Behavior Specialist 🇺🇸
Do you ever look at a cat and wonder what they see?
You’ve probably heard they have great vision—in some ways, that’s true, while in other ways, it’s not (surprising, right?).
We’ll answer the most common questions on how cats see the world. Get ready to see through a cat’s eyes.
Can Cats See Color?
The cells in your eyes that allow you to see colors are called cones. Humans and cats have three types of cones that can see different combinations of red, blue, and green. Since humans have 10x more cones than cats do, we can see a larger spectrum of colors.
So, yes, cats can see color, but where we see rich and vibrant colors, they see more muted hues and less saturated colors that almost appear pastel. They can see greys, blues, and yellows, but have problems distinguishing greens and reds. This makes them colorblind in the same way some humans are.
Can Cats See in the Dark?
Where the cone cells allow us to see color, rods are cells that allow us to see motion and light. Although cats cannot see in pitch black (but they can use their whiskers to navigate in the dark), they have six to eight times more rods compared to humans, which allows them to see better in dim light, and detect quick motion.
This is why if you move a toy, a cat will become laser-focused on it – they can actually see it better.
Additionally, cats have a mirror layer in the back of their eyes called a tapetum lucidum. Typically, light hits a photoreceptor and then goes to the brain for processing – but sometimes light misses the photoreceptor. The tapetum lucidum bounces the light back, giving it a second chance.
This helps a cat see light and motion better, and explains the reflection you see if you take a picture of them using a flash in low light.
It’s believed the tapetum may also shift the wavelengths a cat sees, meaning they can spot a silhouette against a dark sky more easily.
Are Cats Nearsighted?
Technically, no. Since cats have more rods than cones, they aren’t very good at seeing detail, which is where the idea that they’re nearsighted comes from. Where humans can see objects pretty well at 100 feet, cats see objects better around 20 feet, but the best at 2-3 feet.
They can’t see objects much closer because they don’t have the muscles needed to change the shape of their lenses.
This also means that they can’t see slow-moving objects like we can, which explains why they often seem disinterested in small ants that walk in front of them—they likely barely see them.
Keep in mind their sight is designed for hunting, so just seeing the size of a moving object at a distance is enough to start to stalk.
Then, the only time they need to really see something up close is when it’s time for the kill, and even then, their whiskers can take over and tell them where to deliver the killing bite.
Do Cats Have a Different Field of View Than We Do?
Human vision has a field of 180 degrees, and cats see 200 degrees. Even though they see more peripherally than we do, the edges of their field of view are very blurry, just like us. This likely helps them track moving prey.
Cats also see the slightest movement, and because of their forward-facing eyes, they can know how far they are from prey and the exact spot to attack.
We still have so much more to learn about how cats see the world, but there has been a lot of great research done to give us a strong foundation.
Do cats see better than we do? No—they just see it differently.
Drake, Nadia. Wired, This Is How Cats See the World.
Ghose, Tia. Live Science, Feline Vision: How Cats See the World.
Llera, Ryan. Buzhardt, Lynn. VCA Hospitals, Do Cats See Color?
O’Brien, Christine. Hill’s Pet, Cat Vision: How Do They See the World?
Article by Elizabeth Italia 🙋♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist