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Can Cats See in the Dark? Images, Facts and Explanation- Zippy Pet

Amir Ali
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Written by Amir Ali | October 8, 2021

Can cats see in the dark? 

Well, the above question might sound dumb but when it comes to Cat Care. It’s as important as knowing what’s the right food for her.  

If you are a cat parent, recall the time when you crashed with your cat during a power cut and wondered why she’s always below your feet when it’s dark?

Or, you may be the victim of those late-night adventures that can begin anytime post-midnight and spoil your sleep.

Yeah, I understand how annoying those unpredictable midnight adventures are. Ofen you wonder, what’s wrong with this weird creature? Why doesn’t she let me sleep peacefully? LOL.

No, your fluffy hasn’t lost her sanity.

The answer is simple. Your tabby doesn’t see the world as you do.

Cats’ vision is different from humans. Though like humans, they can’t see in complete darkness, their ability to see in the low light is six times better than humans. However, they don’t see things as clearly as we do. Hence, their nights are brighter and less clear than ours.

Now, the question is, why do you care how cats see the world? 

Is it really important to know all this stuff?

Of course, it’s damn important. 

Because, on one end, it’ll help you understand her behaviour in a better way. On the other hand, this will help you to give her a better care and living environment which she needs to grow, thrive and lead a happy life. 

So, without further ado, let’s see the world from cats’ eyes.

If you want to get the gist of the entire article in a snap, here are the highlights for you.

You May Like to Read: Why do Cats Knead and Purr

10 Quick Facts About Cats Vision: Highlights 

  1. Cats are crepuscular animals1. Crepuscular is animals generally more active during twilight, that’s around dawn and dusk.
  1. Cats need just one-sixth of the amount of light that humans need to see in low light.
  1. The curved cornea and a large lens in cats’ eyes allow more light to enter their eyes. When it’s dark their pupils can dilate to allow more light to enter the eye lens. This way, they have an edge over humans to see in very low light.
  1. Cats have a special tissue called ‘Tapetum Lucidum’ between their retina and choroid layer. Tapetum may reflect more light that falls between the rods and cone cells. Thus, giving them a second chance to pick off that light and prey during twilight.
  1. Tapetum Lucidum is also responsible for shining the eyes of cats (and many other animals) when it’s dark. 
  1. Cats have more rods than cones(rods and cones are photoreceptor cells present inside the eyes) which are responsible for better, brighter and more focussed night vision. They have as many as 8 times more rod cells than humans.
  1. Cats can adapt their eyes to a wider range of light levels than humans. 
  1. Cats can see objects only up to 20 ft,2 which is a lot less than humans. We can see objects clearly up to 100-200 ft. 
  1. Cats are dichromats 3 like dogs and protanopia humans). In simple words, they can see the difference between the shades of blue and violet but they are red-green colour blind. 
  1. Cats have about a 10% wider range of vision than humans. Thus, standing at the same spot as us, they can see even those objects which are beyond our field of vision. 

Can Cats See Better than Humans? 

image showing internal structure of cat's eyes
image showing the internal structure of a cat-eye

There’s no ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer. If you ask me about the vision, I’d ask you what exactly are you talking about?

Are you talking about brightness or clarity? Or do you want to compare the depth or colour sensitivity? 

You see, there are several factors that affect the quality of vision. 

Interestingly, different organisms have different abilities to see. Some of them have the brightest vision while another group has a great laser-sharp sharp focus.

But let’s not split hairs and here stick to cats. 

In the following sections, you get to know the different factors or aspects of cats’ vision.  

Is Cats’ Vision is Brighter Than Humans in Low Light?

image showing how cats can see better than humans in low light
image showing how cats can see better than humans in low light

Yes, your kitty can see brighter than you in very low light. So, stop accusing her of coming in your way. You are the culprit who can’t see her coming in the low light and crashing with her.LOL. 

Basically, cats are crepuscular animals like mule deer, porcupine songbirds and many others. This means that they are more active during dawn and dusk, which is generally called twilight.

To understand why they can see better than humans we need to wear our doctor’s coat and what’s whats going on inside a cat’s eyes. 

To put it simply, eyes have special kinds of cells inside them called ‘photoreceptors’. 

Photoreceptors( as the name suggests ) receive the light rays coming towards the retina, passing across the pupil and eye lens. These photo-receptors are of two types— rods and cons. 

  • Rods: are responsible for the brightness of vision. And, 
  • Cons: sense or differentiate the colours and their shades. 

Did you understand till here? Yes, you did. Good. Move on…

…So dear cat daddy cats have more rod cells than cone cells. Which makes their vision blurred but on the other hand it’s a blessing in disguise Since more rod cells enable them to see in very low light there do they do chores comfortably. Unlike us ‘silly humans’ who don’t even move from their place when lights are off.

Is this the only reason? Not really, your moggy has one more surprise for you. And, she calls it ‘Tapetum Lucidum’. 

That’s How Light Reflects Off the Tapetum Lucidum

image shhowing how does light reflects off the Tapetum Lucidum in Cats
image showing how does light reflects off the Tapetum Lucidum in Cats

Cats have an extra layer or structure behind their retina called ‘Tapetum Lucidum’. This super powerful tissue is like a mirror and reflects the light that passes between the rods and the cones giving them another chance to pick up the light the small amount of light available at night. So,  it plays its part in helping cats to have a reasonably bright vision even at night.

This is the very reason why we see the eyes of cats(even dogs and some other animals) shining like diamonds in the dark. 

Also Read: How to Stop a Cat Fight?

Can Cats See Colours Better than Humans?

image showing the difference between the colour spectrum of humans and cats
image showing the difference between the colour spectrum of humans and cats

Unfortunately, cats don’t have the best of both worlds. The brighter vision costs them red-green colour blindness. Colour blindness, 4 basically is the inability to differentiate between the different colours and their shades.

Remember, in the previous sections I told you about the photoreceptors called ‘the cones’?

Yes, those special cells in the eyes that receive the light coming towards the retina. These cons have a light-sensitive pigment that helps us to recognize different colours and their shades. Interestingly they are also three types. 

Each of these cones is sensitive to blue, green or red light.

But, cats have 1/10th of the cones that humans have. So they cannot differentiate colours as we do. This means that your cat’s rainbow does not have the colours like yours.

Also, they are dichromats(some say that they are trichromats but there is no strong evidence to support this argument) so they have two cone receptors sensitive to two light shades blue and yellow. But they are red and green colour blind.

Do Cats Have a Wider Field of Vision Than Humans?

image showing how do cats' field of vision is 10% wider than humans
image showing how cats’ field of vision is 10% wider than humans

Yes, know that cats have about 10% wider field of vision than5 humans? Their visual field or angle is about 200 degrees compared to 180 degrees of humans. This greater peripheral vision helps them in spotting the movement of prey while hunting 

So, when you and your cat are standing at the same place and looking in the same direction she can see even those objects which are beyond your field of vision.

Are Cats Nearsighted?

image showing how cats' vision is more blurred than humans
image showing how cats’ vision is more blurred than humans

Yes, another interesting fact about the cats’ vision is they are nearsighted organisms. Hence, they can’t see the distant object clearly like humans. 

This is is because of the rod cells. At one end, rod cells help cats to see in low light. More rod cells, on the other, hand decrease their visual acuity 6 (clearness of vision) making them near animals animal. 

When compared to humans cats are visually weak when it comes to seeing objects situated at long distances clearly. The visual acuity of a normal human is 20/20. While cats have poor visual acuity ranging from 20/100 to as low as 20/200. 

Let me explain in simple words. It means that a cat should be 20 ft away from the object to see as many details as an average human can see from 100 ft. This is the reason why have blurred vision.

Can a Kitten See in the Dark?

Kittens’ optical quality 7 is not like a momma cat. Their vision develops gradually over time. They can’t have a fully developed vision until they are 4 months old. So, they can’t thereby dark(low light) like adult cats

According to research 8 (Bonds & Freeman, 1978; Bateson, 2013), the period from 4 to 12 weeks is very critical for kittens. As their eyes go through visual development which is prone to disruption under poor conditions. 

After passing this period they have vision like any o er adult cat that is their field of view is 200-degree, 30-degree peripheral vision, dichromat and poor binocular vision.

Momma cat and the other family members take care of their future in the needs and give the training to develop their preying skills including eye-paws coordination, defence behaviourally behaviour. 

As per a study (D.Turner and P.Bateson, 2013), kittens are observers and they continue to observe other cats as they mature and develop their skills. Unfortunately, sometimes they get bad company and learn problematic behaviour by observing the bad boys(stray cats) of the neighbourhood and start bullying other innocent cat-like they do. LOL.

As per study 9 (D.Turner and P.Bateson, 2013), kittens are observers and they continue to observe other cats as they mature and develop their skills. Unfortunately, sometimes they get bad company and learn problematic behaviour by observing the bad boys(stray cats) of the neighbourhood and start bullying other innocent cats as they do. LOL.

How Do Cats See Human Faces?

It’s a demand question and a lot of new cat parents want to know how their love sees them. Even I was curious to know, How cats see humans? Do they see us as we see ourselves? 

As per test 10 was conducted by Stephen G. Lomber; Paul Cornwell, in which they showed the pictures of the handlers to cats. Surprisingly, cats recognized their handler’s face just half of the time. 

On the contrary to this, when they were shown a picture of a familiar and stranger cat. They recognized the familiar cat 90.7 per cent of the time. 

Similarly, they recognized the familiar setting 85.8 per cent of the time. This test has proved tt cats have good visual recognition but when it comes to our faces they don’t give a damn. 

Now you may say, ‘But my cat can recognize me, other members of the family. Yeah! That’s right because they use other cues to differentiate such as our body scent, vocal cues 11 and the way we feel.

Cat Vision Simulation FAQs

Q1. Cats Can See in Ultraviolet Light?

Probably “Yes”! According to a new research study,12 cats and some other mammals can see colours produced by the ultraviolet end of the spectrum. This means that your cat may see even those colours(especially of birds and flowers) that you can’t see. Similarly, power lines that seem normal to you appear as terrifying bursts of light to your cat. 13

Q2: Can Cats See in Colour? 

Yes, as explained above, cats can see in colour. Cats’ world is not completely black and white, which was a belief in the past. However, they can’t see red-green colours but are good at differentiating between the different shades of blue and yellow.

Q3. Can a cat see better than a dog in the dark?

Yes, cats are superior to dogs when it comes to viewing objects in low light. A large number of rods cells(light receptors), elliptical eye lenses, curved cornea and tapetum lucidum are believed to have equipped cats with such powerful night vision.

Q4. Can a cat find a litter box in dark?

Absolutely, if it’s not totally dark. Generally, this is not the case with our houses because of the residual lights coming from windows, gaps in doors and ventilators. So, cats can see pretty well and find their litter box in the low light or at night even when the lights are off.

Q5. What do cats see when dark?

Cats can see better than us in the dark. Especially, during twilight(dusk and dawn). They have a brighter vision than humans in low light. Their eyes are equipped with 8 times more rod cells than humans to see better than humans in the dark. In addition, their field of vision is wider than ours by, 10%.

However, they are not gin seeing the distant objects as clearly as we do. They need to be at 20 ft from the objects to see the details that we can see from 100 ft. Also, they can’t differentiate the colours like us. They can see the difference between different shades of blue are yellow but red-green colour blind.

References: 

  1. https://www.nps.gov/nabr/learn/nature/animals.htm
  1. http://www.allanimaleyeclinic.com
  1. https://www.colourblindawareness.org/colour-blindness/types-of-colour-blindness/
  1. https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/eye-and-vision-conditions/color-vision-deficiency?sso=y#:~:text=Color%20vision%20is%20possible%20due,%2C%20medium%20or%20short%20wavelengths).
  1. https://www.eyeconsultants.net/the-vision-of-cats-vs-dogs.htm#:~:text=Cats%20have%20a%20wider%20field,to%20aid%20in%20this%20behavior.
  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_acuity
  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0042698978900482?via%3Dihub
  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0042698978900482?via%3Dihub
  1. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Domestic-Cat-%3A-The-Biology-of-Its-Behaviour-Turner-Bateson/d2e8ad92d2354c86d08a4bd32070c602ab3d24bc
  1. https://jov.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2132249
  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10071-013-0620-4
  1. http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/281/1780/20132995.full
  1. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/power-lines-look-like-terrifying-bursts-of-light-to-animals/

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