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Are Cats Color Blind?

Blue-eyed cat

Being a cat owner, I’m sure that you’ve already asked yourself, how is my cat seeing the world? it sees it like humans do, or in a different way, maybe due to the fact that in contrast to people, cats have night vision.

Eyes were created to provide organisms vision, which is the ability to process visual details in the surrounding world.

There are also several photo response functions available for people and also for animals that are independent to vision.

How Cats See The World?

It seems that cats see the world in a slightly different way than we do.

Retina

The difference between the human eye and the cat eye is made by the retina, which is a layer of tissue at the back of the eye and contains cells called photoreceptors.

When light reaches the photoreceptors, they start converting the light rays into electrical signals, which are processed by nerve cells and sent to the brain where are translated into the images we see.

There are two types of photoreceptor cells called rods and cones.

Rods are responsible for the peripheral vision, and also for the night vision because they can detect brightness and shades of gray, while cones are responsible for day vision and color perception.

People with normal vision can see up to 1 million different shades of color, which means that they have a lot of cones in their retina.

People that can see in the dark, also have a larger number of rods in their retina.

This is the reason why people can detect a large number of colors and shades, but during the night we barely see something.

On the other hand, cats have a much higher concentration of rods and a low concentration of cones in their retinas, which means that they see less colors and shades, but have excellent night vision.

Visual Field

The average human visual field is around 180 degrees and includes what can be seen straight ahead, as well as above and below, and to the side.

Compared to humans, cats have a slighter wider visual field of 200 degrees, but they lack the acuity compared to human eyes, which have a visual acuity of 20/20.

Cats have a visual acuity between 20/100 and 20/200, which means that a cat has to be at a distance of 20 feet to see what an average human can see at a distance of 100 or 200 feet.

Compared to humans, cats seem to be nearsighted, and this means that they can’t see far objects very well, however, they have the ability to see closer objects much better, and this helps them for hunting and capturing the prey.

Colors

Cats see colors in a different way compared to humans. A common misconception says that cats can’t see any colors, and they see only shades of grey, which is not true.

Exactly like humans, cats are trichromats, but in a different way.

If people are trichromats because they have three kinds of cones that allows them to see red, green and blue, cats are also trichromats, but they have a similar vision like a human that is color blind.

Cats can see shades of blue and green, but reds and pinks can be confusing because they see them as other shades of green. Purple looks more like a shade of blue.

In terms of richness of hues and saturation of colors, cats also see less of these compared to humans, but when we talk about seeing in the dark, cats see much better than us.

Having a higher number of rods in their retina that are sensitive to dim light, cats have night vision.

Cats also have a structure behind the retina called tapetum lucidum, which improves their night vision even more.

The cells in the tapetum act like a mirror, reflecting the light that passes between the rods and cones (in their retina) back to the photoreceptors, which gives them another chance to pick up the small amount of light available in dark places.

And this is the reason why we see cats’ eyes glowing in the dark.

The Way Cats See the World (in pictures)

Artist Nickolay Lamm consulted three experts (Kerry L. Ketring, DVM – Animal Eye Clinic, Dr. D. J. Haeussler of The Animal Eye Institute, and the Ophthalmology group at Penn Vet) to hypothesize how cats actually see the world compared to people.

In all the following images, the human view will be on the top, and the cat view will be on the bottom.

Cats view compared to human view

Cats view compared to human view – evening street view – credits: Nickolay Lamm/MyDeals.com

In this image we see that cats have a wider angle of view, but the image is more blurry on both sides, and the colors seen are more pinkish.

Cats view compared to human view

Cats view compared to human view – inside a building – credits: Nickolay Lamm/MyDeals.com

The second image shows how cats see inside buildings with people located at different distances.

Even if there is plenty of light inside the building, a cat can’t see better the people that are further away, but it sees the woman that moves fast even better than people do, showing that is perfectly equipped for hunting.

Cats view compared to human view

Cats view compared to human view – far buildings – credits: Nickolay Lamm/MyDeals.com

In the third image people can see all the buildings, even those located very far away, while cats can’t see well even the closest buildings.

Cats view compared to human view

Cats view compared to human view – night image with buildings – credits: Nickolay Lamm/MyDeals.com

During the night the image seen by cats is brighter, so they see all the details much better than people can do.

Cats view compared to human view

Cats view compared to human view – open plaza during the night – credits: Nickolay Lamm/MyDeals.com

In the last image we see an open plaza during the night, and we realize that cats have perfect night vision.

The Difference Between the Human Vision and the Cat Vision

  • 1. Cats have more rods in their retina compared to people, which helps them to see well during the night.
  • 2. Cats have less cones in their retina compared to people, which makes them to see less colors compared to humans.
  • 3. Cats can’t see far objects as well as humans do because they were built for close distance hunting.
  • 4. Cats have an additional layer behind their retina (tapetum lucidum) which improves their night vision even more.
  • 5. Cats can see fast moving objects much better than we do, and this is another tool that helps them to hunt small prey.

Conclusion

No matter what some people think, cats don’t see the world in black and white, they can see less colors compared to people, as well as they don’t see far objects as clearly as people do.

However, your tiny feline can see fast moving objects much better than you do, and their glowing eyes during the night shows that they can be perfectly adapted for night vision.

Article written by:

Darius Savin is a lifelong animal lover and protector and the chief editor of Checkmember. He writes and edits articles and is also the creator of the distribution maps for all the creatures featured here.