Do Cats Have Night Vision? Nocturnal Hunters.

Yes, our cats have the ability to see in the dark but they do need some light. 

But they only need about 1/6 the amount that us humans do. It’s the design of their eyes that give them this ability.

“The curved cornea and large lens direct light, and the pupils open to full circles to take in maximum available light,” says Hazel C. Carney, D.V.M., MS, Dipl. ABVP, of WestVet Emergency and Specialty Center in Garden City, Idaho.

Can cats see colors? [see my post here on what cats see through their eyes]

Yes, but only a limited range of them…

Can cats really see ghosts? 

Us humans are always wondering how our cat’s are doing:

  • what they are seeing
  • where they go when they are outside
  • how they are feelingdo cats have night vision

There are tons of advances in technology that allow us to see where our cats are going and what they are doing when we’re not home.

With things like:

We are living in a time when knowledge about our pets is so easy to find – there are lots of studies and research that go into furthering our knowledge of how our cats see and precieve the world. 

So, let’s talk about what our furry feline friends see, and how their eyes differ from ours or from other mammals. 

Everything We Know About a Cats’ Vision

What do cats really see?

How are their eyes different from ours?

We can strap a collar cam on our cat and see what they get up to – but is there a way to actually SEE what they are seeing?

Diving right in…

Let’s talk about some things us humans know about our feline friends’ eye sight:

🐾 Humans see a 180 degree view. while cats see around 200 degrees.
The placement of the eyes on a cat’s head gives it greater peripheral vision and a wider field of view than a human.

However, cats’ visual acuity is limited as they are unable to alter the shape of their eye lenses.

This means that objects we can see from 100 or 200 feet away will look blurry to a cat if they are more than 20 feet away from them.

In other words, human vision is 20/20 and a cat’s vision is generally between 20/60 to 20/100.

🐾 Their color range is limited, but likely better than you think.
Research on this has shown that cats can see very well blue and yellow colors – however, the  colors red, orange or brown aren’t nearly as prominent (if existent at all) – which is why a cats vision may not be as rich in color as a human’s vision. [1]

You can check out a few images of what cats see by visiting this link

🐾 Cats are near-sighted.
While humans can achieve 20/20 vision, cats usually have 20/100 or 20/200 vision.

This means for us humans, we can see much further into the distance than our feline friends. 

🐾 Some slow moving objects may actually look stationary to your cat.
Because cats lack muscles necessary to change the shape of their eye lenses, cats can’t see some things as clearly (or closely) as humans can and need to be further away.

Slow moving objects that humans detect with their eyesight, to a cat, will look like it’s standing still. [2]

blue cat eyes cat veteran

What is Night Vision?

Night vision is the ability to see objects, and your surroundings, in low light conditions.

This can be due to the biological ability of an animal, or man-made devices, such as night goggles for humans.

Many mammals have far superior night vision compared to humans.

But what level of night vision do our cats have?

Our feline friends may be famous for having nine lives, but do their superpowers extend to seeing in the dark?

With specially evolved features, cats do indeed have night vision, and they aren’t afraid to use it!

While there are many similarities between the eyes of humans and cats, there are a couple of major differences, which give our furry friends this superior night vision.

The structure of a cat’s eye is very similar to that of a human eye.

human eye and cat eye comparison cat veteran

The iris controls the amount of light which is let in through the pupil, and the lens then focuses this onto the retina.

The retina contains photoreceptor cells, which sense light and allow cats to see.

In both humans and cats, these cells are a combination of rods and cones, each one having a specific function.

Rods are far better at absorbing light and assisting us with night vision, while cones allow us to see color and detail.

For an in-depth diagram of the anatomy of a cat’s eye, check out this page!

Read on to find out more!

Why Do Cats Have Excellent Night Vision?

As crepuscular animals, they are most active at dusk and dawn.

(Those of us with indoor kitties are very aware of this, as we hear them pouncing around throughout the night.)

Cats’ eyes have evolved to be effective at these times in order to assist them while hunting, and also to ensure that they can sense, and steer clear of, predators.

And while it’s possible for dogs to also see in the dark as well…

A cats night vision is … well, superior.

Watch the video below to see who completes a night-vision maze first – a cat or a dog. 

(Well, that was not even a close contest – cat wins!) 

Let’s talk about why cats have superior night vision…

The elliptical shape of a cat’s eye is built to collect light, and the large corneas are able to effectively capture and focus it.

This is why your cat appears to have enormously large pupils in low light conditions:

Their eyes are taking in all of the light that they can!

Cats’ eyes also have two special adaptations which result in a different type of vision compared to humans.

  • The first adaptation is the Tapetum Lucidum, which is a layer of tissue that sits behind the retina.
    The reflective area allows more light to reach the retina by reflecting light inside the eye back to it.
    Ever wonder why your cat’s eyes gleam green or gold when you shine a light or take a phoo with the flash one? This is why! 

It is also possible that this reflective tissue is able to change the wavelengths of the light that a cat’s eye takes in, which makes prey appear more obvious when silhouetted against the night sky.

  • The second adaptation is the composition of light receptors on the retina.
    Human eyes have more cones than cats’ eyes, which allows us to see well-lit surroundings in a greater color spectrum and more detail than a cat would. 

However, cats’ eyes have a higher proportion of rods, which register white light.

This helps them to see more clearly in low light conditions and sense motion far better than humans can.

These cells also refresh rapidly, which allows a cat to detect rapid movements in low light situations.

The flipside of this is that a cat’s visual acuity is greatly reduced in daylight or bright light.

Even though a cat’s pupils can shrink to what look like narrow slits, the rod cells still let in too much light and overwhelm the retina.

This means that humans are superior at sensing motion in daylight conditions.

close up cat face cat eyes cat veteran

Which Colors Do Cats See?

This is a debatable topic!

The short answer is that cats can predominantly see colors like:

  • blue
  • purple
  • yellow
  • greens – while colors like red and browns can be more difficult/not possible for them to see clearly.

(And when you think about it – most cat toys/tunnels you’ll find are shades of purple, yellow, blue, etc). 

Let’s get more into this!

While we know dogs and cats see less of the color spectrum than us, do we know how many colors they do see?

Not only that, but we can also ask ourselves questions about the richness/sharpness of their vision as well. 

Cats’ eyes do not see colors in such clear definition as human eyes.

While human and cat eyes both have three types of cones, ours allow us to see a wide range of colors.

Cats have a much poorer perception of colors and, like dogs, they mostly see muted blue, purple, yellow and green ranges, while struggling to perceive reds.

If you want to know more…

The following YouTube video gives a detailed explanation of what cats see and how this occurs, with videos showing the differences between our vision as humans and feline vision:

Can Cats See When it is Pitch Black?

Yes. 

While you’re stumbling around to find a flash light, your cat can be pouncing and hunting around your feet! 

Why do cats have such excellent night vision?

Well:

Cats require one sixth of the light that us humans do in order to see in the dark, they are unable to see in pitch black conditions.

This is because their eyes still require even the smallest amount of light to function and be able to sense their surroundings, which is not possible with absolute pitch blackness.

Do Cats See Ghosts?

We’ve all seen those videos (or maybe even seen it with our own cats) where the cat is wide-eyed and scared over something we can’t see. 

While there is quite a bit of “lore” surrounding our furry feline friends, you’ve likely heard this one the most.

Cats can see ghosts!

Or can they?

Let’s look at this debate…

You may have noticed your cat acting strangely, as if they’re seeing a ghost, and it’s believed that cats and other mammals have the ability to see ultraviolet light.

Unlike humans, the lenses in a cat’s eyes allow this kind of light to be perceived, and this can also assist them with seeing more clearly in low light conditions.

This means white or light-colored objects appear to be glowing to a cat.

This can also cause them to be inquisitive, or even afraid, of objects or environments that are these shades or colors.

 A study published in 2014 found that cats (and other mammals) might be able to see ultraviolet light.

Humans, however, can’t see that type of light. 

This means that, yes, your pet can likely see things that aren’t visible to you yourself. [3]

Whether those things are ghosts or paranormal spirits – we’ll leave that up to you to decide.

It’s clear that our feline friends can include superior night vision on their list of superpowers, alongside their nine lives, considerable hunting prowess and their potential ability to witness the supernatural.

 

Sources:

[1]  PopSci – See the World Through the Eyes of a Cat

[2] Live Science – What Do Cats See?

[3] Bustle – Can Pets See Ghosts?

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