Do Cats See Color?: A View From Their World
Have you ever just taken the time to watch your cat? Do you wonder what they see and how they see it? As they gaze up at you, are you curious how their eyes perceive you? How exactly do cats see color, you wonder?
I don’t know about you, but I sure was curious. Seeing the light reflect in their eyes, seeing their reaction to certain movements or colors, it all made me very intrigued.
Over the years I’ve noticed that if one cat parent is curious about a certain subject – there’s a strong chance many more are too! 🙂
Many falsely believe that their feline is only seeing black and white. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. Your furchild is actually enjoying a world full of colors, albeit differently than you perceive them.
Understanding what they see and how cats see color is really a fun and interesting subject. Lets dive in for more!
Cat Vision: Rods vs. Cones
In both the human eye and the cat eye, we have photoreceptors called rods and cones contained within the retina. These cells are responsible for gathering light and relaying the message to the brain of what they see.
Rods, along the outer sides of the retina, allow you to see at night or in lower light conditions. Rods are also responsible for our peripheral vision. Since night vision typically involves darker colors and grey, rods enhance these colors.
Cones on the other hand are located in the center of your retina and help you see colors during the day, as well as the finer details of life. Cones also give us the ability to differentiate between colors correctly.
It is thought that when a person is color blind, there is a deficiency in the cone itself or possibly in the pathway to the brain. This results in not perceiving color the way it actually is.
For example, if the deficiency is in the cone that perceives red, all tones of red and its variations will be undetectable. A different color in its place all together will be seen instead.
Cats Are Slightly Colorblind
Science appears to confirm that cat vision may have some difficulty distinguishing colors on the red spectrum, such as pink or reddish orange.
Humans have 3 main types of cones in the retina. These types allow us to see blue, red and green. When our cone cells are operating normally, they allow us to see a wide range of colors in vivid displays. We are able to detect many shades of the same color.
Cats also have 3 types of cones. However, the most marked difference between our kitties and us are the number of cones within each type. This lack of cones is what limits our felines’ ability to see the wider range of color variations we do.
Blues, greys and yellows appear to be the easiest for your feline to see, while red, orange, yellow and green may give them trouble.
While we may have the “leg up” on daytime color vision, our cats far exceed our abilities to see at night.
Cats Have More Rods
While humans have approximately 10 times more cones than our cats – they have about 8 times as many rods as we do!
What does this all mean?
Since rods are responsible for night vision, motion detection and having a greater range of vision – it’s no wonder that our cats are natural hunters or love playing with their favorite toys in the middle of the night (much to your dismay at times, haha!) 😀
“When compared to humans, cats see better in dim light (dusk and dawn) and more accurately detect motion.”VCA Hospitals
Another amazing bonus cat eyes have that we don’t: it’s called the tapetum lucidum.
This incredible layer of tissue behind the retina reflects any available light back through the eye, acting almost as a built-in flashlight for kitties! This tapetum lucidum further increases the cat’s ability to see in poor lighting.
There’s no doubt in my mind you’ve also noticed the reflective glow your cat’s eye has in the dark, in photos or from certain angles. You guessed it – the tapetum is responsible for this fascinating effect. 🙂
Cat Vision Study
A few years back, there was a fascinating study done by Nickolay Lamm.
During this study, Nickolay consulted with some very knowledgeable folks who know their cat eyes!
- Kerry L. Ketring, DVM, DACVO of All Animal Eye Clinic
- Dr. DJ Haeussler of The Animal Eye Institute
- Ophthalmology Group at Penn Vet
Through this study, they sought to answer this very question: how do cats see color and what do they see in general?
Here are some photos to perfectly illustrate comparisons between how we perceive vision versus what our cats are seeing.
In this photo below, you are seeing the believed overall color differences between our eyes (photo on the top) and our cat’s eyes (photo on bottom).
As you will notice, reds are seen as greens and shades of red also aren’t found. Yellows and greys are prominent. Fascinating isn’t it? A red colorblind individual would very much be able to relate to this image.
Color Saturation Differences
The saturation (vividness) of colors we see are a significant difference in vision.
As you will notice in the above photo, saturated greens appear more yellow to our kiddos.
Think of the colors in a rainbow. Notice how vibrant and varied they are? While your cat would still be able to appreciate the colors, they may appear dulled or less wide-ranging.
As we discussed above, due to the increased number of rods kitties have in their retina, their night vision is superior.
If you notice in the above photo, have a look at that right corner especially. Our vision may entirely miss the structures present next to the large building and the trees we may see a shadow of.
Our feline friends however can naturally shed some light on the subject and see all the details of the objects.
This ability not only makes them outstanding at hunting during the night, as is required in the wild, but it also keeps them safer. Dangers have a harder time catching them unawares.
How neat is that? A built in security system! Pair their unique night-time eyesight with their remarkable hearing and you’ve got one awesome creature! 🙂
Wow! Look at that light difference! This is what I am calling “the tapetum advantage.” What a powerful piece of eye tissue that is!
For me personally, I can’t help but compare it to a flashlight for us. Cats (and some other cool creatures) were just innately born with the ability to shine light wherever they need it. 🙂
(If you ask me, they shine light on our hearts too!) All that laughing and smiling they make us do, how about it?!
It is believed that kitties are naturally nearsighted. I guess some people would like to blame their “occasional” aloofness to… “oh hi, I didn’t see you there!” 😀
But the truth is, cats really don’t see very well far away. They do however see in great detail close up, which helps them detect even the slightest of motion.
When you combine their wider range of vision (peripheral) with their superior motion detection system – you have a cat that can hunt with the best of them.
Yeah, it could also be why your feet or ankles may be ever so irresistible too!
Wider Field of Vision
These photos illustrate that even though we as humans (top photo) have great peripheral vision, cats are even better!
With an average range of 180* (degrees) as a human, cats are thought to have around 200* (degrees) field view.
As you see in these photos above, we have blind spots (the black areas) past a certain point of vision. Our felines though do not have this same blind spot. They are able to scan prey from a wide angle “lens” and thanks to their motion detection, catch it (most of the time)!
As you can see, there is a very significant difference between the clarity of which we see our world with.
Whether it is with or without corrective lenses, we as humans see with 20/20 vision on average.
Our cats on the other hand are seeing with visual acuity around 20/100 – 20/200. What we can see with 20/20 vision at 100 to 200 meters would require our cats to be within a distance of 20 meters.
This has a great impact on how cats function in their world. Although they have adapted to this visual lack with acute hearing and smell, their world can still be pretty fuzzy. (no pun intended!)
Cats Are Colorful
Cats are hilarious. They can be terribly frustrating but oh so rewarding! They will make you smile, chuckle, scratch your head and say, “Awww how cute!”
Their personalities are as colorful as our world. There are no 2 cats exactly the same. I’ve heard it said many times – you could be the crazy cat lady or daddy, have 100 cats, but none would be exactly alike. Very true!
Speaking of color, I found a very unique cat video that is a personality test. Based on which cat you pick, will give you insight into your personality traits. It may not be the most scientific test around, BUT, it honest to goodness was accurate for me!
I wanted to share it with you, my cherished readers. Let me know if your results were accurate in the comments section below. Also, if I can answer any questions for you, let me know that too!
And please, if this article helped or entertained you, share it with your social media friends! I thank you sincerely! <3
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I'm Holly. Devoted wife to my amazing husband, Bill. Faithful woman of God. Introverted and Introspective INFJ (MBTI). Lover of nature and animals (especially cats). I love writing and research, especially on topics of nature, plants, faith, and cats! My hope is that people feel encouraged, comforted and supported after interacting with me. Especially fond of who society deem the "underdogs," I love helping people see their God-given beauty and celebrating it!