Cat Vision

Thursday, December 27, 2018 | 


A Word From Dr. Joyce Ashamalla

Cat Vision

Have you wondered why cats love chasing the little dot from a laser pointer? They are attracted to the movement of the laser as it changes speed and direction, running from left to right, over the couch, under the table, only stopping to jump and bat at the wall as the laser moves to a close swatting distance. This mimics the movement of their prey and as skilled hunters, cats are driven to chase, stalk and pounce on the laser dot. The contrast of the bright light against the dark background of the floor is also attractive to cats because of their unique vision. Read on to find out more about how scientists have studied cat vision to determine what colors they see along with what gives them their amazing ability to see at night.

What Colors Do Cats See?

Humans see vibrant colors during the day thanks to the cones in our eyes. Cats have ten times fewer cones in their eyes, making their color vision not nearly as rich as humans. Cats can tell the difference between red, blue and yellow lights, and they can distinguish between the blue/violet end of the spectrum much better than the red end of the spectrum. So the bright red dot of the laser pointer that humans see may actually appear white to a cat. The smaller number of cones in their eyes also makes cat’s motion detection abilities in bright light not as precise as humans. But this does not mean cats have poor vision. We have to dig deeper to find out where cat vision truly excels. 

Cat Night Vision

Thanks to the high number of rod cells in their eyes, cat vision is best at night, allowing them to seem more light at low levels and allowing them to detect motion in the dark. Because cats are crepuscular, being most active at dusk and dawn, their night vision must be strong. The enormous, elliptical shape of a cat’s eye, along with their large corneas and a layer of tissue, called the tapetum, bring more light into the eye by reflecting it back to the retina. This enables cats to see more at night as compared to humans.

Despite cat’s powerful night vision, many are in fact nearsighted, meaning they cannot see far away objects. Humans see objects clearly at about 100 – 200 feet while cats can only see objects clearly from about 20 feet. For additional comparison, humans have 20/20 vision while cats have 20/100 or 20/200 vision. This is frequently true for indoor cats, while outdoor can be nearsighted. The enormous size of cat’s eyes makes it difficult for them to focus between near and far. Their large eyes also make it hard to focus on items very close to their face, so they use their whiskers to assist them.

Cats and Laser Pointers

Cats are wired to hunt, and using a laser pointer to play with your cat helps satisfy her need to stalk and pounce. Chasing a laser is also great exercise and good mental stimulation for your cat, and cats young and old can enjoy this simulated hunt. When purchasing a laser pointer, make sure it is safe for use with cats and be sure to monitor your cat during playtime. Be careful not to overstimulate your cat, and if you notice her panting, it’s time to take a break. Playing with a laser pointer is a great way for you to bond with your cat as it is great fun for both of you.

Interested in learning more about how cats are crepuscular? Read about it here.