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Home > Cats > How Good Is a Cat’s Eye Vision? The Interesting Answer!

How Good Is a Cat’s Eye Vision? The Interesting Answer!

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

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It’s no surprise to consider that our cats can see much better than we can. After all, their intense inbuilt desire to hunt requires impeccable eyesight that is able to detect even the slightest movements.

But just how good is a cat’s eyesight? How do they measure up against other species? And do they see differently than we do? We have all of the answers and more.

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A Cat’s Eyesight: The Basics

Seeing a cat’s glowing eyes at night is nothing abnormal. The reflection you see in a cat’s eyes is the same one you notice with other nocturnal animals. These critters absolutely love going out on the town during twilight hours.

But contrary to popular myth, cats are not nocturnal animals. Cats are crepuscular creatures, meaning their eyesight is best at dawn and dusk. This might be a fundamental change of pace from what you’re used to.

Anytime a human being notices the sun coming up or going down, it suddenly seems harder to see. For example, once you notice the sunset in the sky, you might crank your headlights for better vision when driving. Everything starts to get disadvantageous for our vision, and we need to use artificial light to make it home.

But the same sentiment does not extend to our feline friends. They thrive in low light, much as we do in full sun. This type of eyesight helps your cat at all points of the day, designed to navigate through its natural habitat. While cats don’t have the same desire to hunt that they do in the wild, they still use their visual strengths daily.

You might notice that your cat becomes a little more active during these dawn and dusk hours, too. That is perfectly normal, as this is when they are in their prime. However, it can be very frustrating for some owners, as this interferes with our natural wake and sleep cycles.

close up portrait of burmese cat
Image By: Seregraff, Shutterstock

Cat’s Eyes at Night

You’ve seen cats running outside at night, getting into mischief in alleys, and darting in front of moving vehicles. So you might automatically assume that their eyesight must be pretty good at night. While they do trump us with night vision, it isn’t necessarily true.

Cats see best in low-light scenarios. Cats have large corneas and pupils, 50% larger than humans, which allows more light into their eyes in smaller volumes. However, they are not designed for hunting in total darkness. Rather, a cat’s vision is the strongest when prey begins to wake or bed down, helping ensure successful hunts using small amounts of light.

Cats & the Shape of Their Pupils

If you’ve ever paid attention to a kitty’s eyes, you might notice that they have very defined splits for pupils. According to the University of California Berkeley,1 they found that animals with vertically slit pupils, just like our cats, are technically ambush predators.

Since they are considered active foragers, they are more likely to hunt during the day and night hours whenever the opportunity presents itself. So cats have to have pretty good night vision, but not in total darkness.

They are at a disadvantage if there is no light to take in around them. However, if they’re trying to hunt a mouse in your home, there is plenty of light, even at night, that your cat can see advantageously.

Research also indicates that unlike giant cats in the wild, like lions and panthers, vertical pupils are much more beneficial to smaller animals closer to the ground. This is one trait they don’t share with their larger cat cousins.

So, while it might seem that your cats are insane hunters in the nighttime hours, they perform much better in low-light scenarios.

close up of a Brazilian Shorthair cat
Image Credit: franklinveras, Shutterstock

Cats See the World in Black and White

If you have a moment, notice how your cat’s pupils will dilate in the dark and nearly disappear in bright light. This is their way of taking in different volumes of light. But in addition to being able to see well in low light due to pupil shape, cats can only see in shades of blue and grey. Some scientists believe that they can see tones of yellow as well.

Because their eyes do not perceive the same colors as ours, it is safe to say that cats see the world through a much different pair of eyes.

Cats vs. Humans (and Other Animals)

Eye Vision Type Visual Color Spectrum Visual Distance
Human Diurnal Full spectrum 100-200 feet
Feline Crepuscular Gray and blue 20 feet
Canine Social Blue, yellow 20 feet

You already know that cats have much better vision than their human companions. That is because they have a different structure of their eyes set up with cones and rods that give them many advantages over us.

Most of these are evolutionary-based, meaning we need a different set of survival skills than our kitties. Even though you are the one filling up your cat’s bowl every day, filling their hungry tummies, they still have instincts to serve them in the wild (even if you have a hard time believing that chunky purr-box on your lap could ever be a ruthless killer.)

close up of a black and white cat
Image Credit: milivigerova, Pixabay

Eye Structure Comparison

When you compare humans versus cats, you will notice that each of us has our advantages and disadvantages. All creatures with eyes have a different number of rods and cones in their eyes. How the eyes are structured sets the bar for exactly what they see and how well they see it.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Each

Humans are blessed with the capacity to see extremely fine detail on a full-color spectrum. While we have the superior ability to cats, the rods of their eyes outnumber ours significantly, letting them see incredibly well in dim light and be very good at perceiving motion.

Human beings are trichromats, meaning they have three kinds of cones showing red, green, and blue. A cat’s vision is mostly the color of grayscale, but certain hues can come through. They are similar to colorblind humans: unable to see color on the red-green spectrum.

While cats might trump us with some visual advantage, we do have some over our feline buddies. For example, humans can see very long distances, while cats have a minimal range.

To put it into numbers, humans can see between 100 and 200 feet away from where they’re standing. Cats, on the other hand, only can see roughly 20 feet ahead.

orange cat in close up photography
Image Credit: Valeria Boltneva, Pexels

Comparison to Other Pets

Both dogs and cats are technically crepuscular. However, dogs are considered social sleepers. If you have a dog in your home and you work the night shift, you might notice that your dogs match your schedule.

However, they can easily adjust their sleeping schedules depending on what’s happening in the home. Cats might do this to a degree, but they are typically always more active in the morning and evening.

Both cats and dogs can only see 20 feet in front of them, a trait they both share, which makes them technically near-sighted. So humans can see drastically farther than our domestic best friends. They are similar to colorblind humans, unable to see color on the red-green spectrum.

Humans have an advantage in seeing brilliant colors and taking bold, bright light to their pupils.

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Conclusion

Now it’s plain why cats see so much better than we do. However, we can take some things away from this that work to our advantage—like seeing in a broader color spectrum and viewing scenery much further away.

However, our crepuscular friends definitely have a significant advantage over us due to their slit pupil shape and tapetum mastering low light settings. Isn’t it interesting to see how we all view the world?


Featured Image Credit: SeraphP, Shutterstock

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