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Can cats see you at night?

Can Cats See in the Dark? (& How Well?)

Although humans domesticated cats nearly 12,000 years ago, your feline friend is still somewhat of a mystery. The idea that cats have night vision contributes to their elusive aura. But can cats see in the dark? And if they can, how well do cats see in the dark?

Can Cats See in the Dark?

Do cats have night vision? Not exactly. They can see very well in low light, however — a skill that gave domestic cats’ ancestors an advantage over their prey. As American Veterinarian explains, cats’ large corneas and pupils, which are about 50% larger than humans’, allow more light into their eyes. This extra light helps them to see in the dark.

People’s homes are rarely in complete darkness — there’s always a little light coming in from somewhere — which is why humans think their cats have night vision goggles. They don’t, but it can seem that way when your cat wakes you up for a midnight meal. Cats actually aren’t nocturnal; they are crepuscular creatures that hunt at dusk and dawn, the time of day when many other animals (i.e., prey) become more active. Talk about perfect timing.

Gray cat with dilated pupils

Evolution of Cat Night Vision

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that animals that have vertically slit pupils, including cats, are more likely to be ambush predators. In contrast to animals whom the researchers refer to as «active foragers,» ambush predators are active during both day and night.

Your cat’s ancestors were solitary hunters. Not much has changed, except that house cats don’t have to work as hard to get a meal. The scientists at UC Berkeley also found that animals with slit pupils tend to be lower to the ground than animals with round pupils. They concluded that vertical pupils help shorter animals estimate how far away their prey is — an advantage that much larger cats, like tigers and lions, don’t need.

Cats vs. Humans

How well do cats see in the dark? Much better than their pet parents. A human’s round pupils are no match for vertically slit pupils. Observe your kitty: Their pupils will constrict in the bright sunlight and then dilate in the dark. A cat’s vision is very powerful because of the strategic shape and movement of their eyes. They also see the world mostly in shades of gray, which is perfect for low light.

Brown tabby cat with green eyes and constricted pupils in the shape of a slit.

«A cat has the capacity to alter the intensity of light falling on its retina 135-fold, compared to tenfold in a human, with a circular pupil,» Dr. Richard E. Goldstein, chief medical officer at the Animal Medical Center in New York City, tells the New York Times. In other words, slit pupils give cats a big advantage over their humans when it comes to seeing in the dark because they’re much more effective at responding to how light enters their eyes.

But you still have one visual advantage over your furry friend: Humans have better visual acuity, or clearness of vision, than cats, reports Business Insider. You can see more clearly than your feline friend, but cats win when it comes to night vision. With your combined visual abilities, you and your cat make the perfect team.

Contributor Bio

Christine O

Christine O’Brien

Christine Brovelli-O’Brien, Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, STEAM educator, professional member of the Cat Writers’ Association (CWA), and a devoted pet parent. She writes about pets, women’s health, teaching, and STEM-y stuff. Her work also has appeared in NIU STEM Read, Fit Pregnancy, What to Expect When You’re Expecting Word of Mom, and Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien

Do Cats Have Night Vision or is it Just a Myth?

Considering that cats are more active at night, we might jump to the conclusion that they have great night vision. While we wouldn’t be completely wrong, it turns out that cats have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to their ability to see in the dark. Another interesting fact is that cats aren’t actually nocturnal—they’re crepuscular, which means that they are more active during the dimmer, changing twilight hours of dawn and dusk. What exactly do we know about cats, their eyes, and night vision? Keep reading to find out more about this fascinating feline topic!

How Cats Eyes Function

Cats’ eyes function in a way that’s similar to our own, but their eyes have certain structural differences that make them see the world differently than we do.

Anatomy of the cat

At night, when it’s particularly dark, the cornea, retina, iris, pupil, and lens of your cat’s eyes work together to help them during their hunting expeditions.

In the front of a cat’s eye is the cornea, which serves as the first barrier of protection for the eye. It also allows light into the eye and focuses it onto the retina at the back of the eye. The retina contains cells that detect light called photoreceptors.

The iris, or colorful part of the eye, is responsible for controlling the amount of light entering from the cornea. This is because it controls the expansion and shrinkage of the pupil, which is the black circular at the center of a cat’s eye. In low light settings, the pupil will enlarge to allow more light in, and in brighter light the pupil becomes smaller to reduce the amount of light entering the eye.

The lens can be found behind the iris, and it also has a role in focusing light onto the retina. The lens also contains small ciliary muscles that contract and relax (just like all muscles do). When contracted, the lens thickens and helps cats focus on objects that are closer. When relaxed, the lens becomes thinner, which helps cats focus on objects that are farther away.

How Does Night Vision Differ Between Cats and Humans?

The retina holds the key to one of the biggest differences between cat and human eyesight. There are two main photoreceptor cells in the retina: rod cells and cone cells.

  • Rod photoreceptor cells are responsible for vision in low light conditions and for detecting and following movement.
  • Cone photoreceptor cells detect color and adjust for brightness, but do not work as well in low light.
  • Cats have more rod cells and fewer cone cells than humans. This abundance of rod cells allows them to sense shapes and objects in the dark better than we can, but not necessarily at the same level of detail.
  • The greater amount of cone cells that humans have means that we can see more vibrant colors during the daytime than cats can, as well as see objects with greater resolution/detail during the day.

With more rod cells, cats can detect and follow movement more easily than humans can in low light conditions. The cone cells in cats’ eyes help them to assess speed and distance. As you can imagine, the functions of both the rod and cone cells in cats’ eyes are very useful for kitties who are on the prowl for rodents and other creatures that may be scurrying around at night!

Cat hunting prey at night from the bushes.

Range of Vision in Cats Versus Humans

What else do we know about cats’ eyesight and how it differs from our own? Cats have better peripheral vision than humans , in addition to an overall wider field of vision (around 200 degrees) in comparison to the typical 180 degree field that humans have. These features give cats the ability to see more of what’s around them, both during the day and night.

Are Cats Nearsighted?

While cats can be nearsighted, it’s not something that can be attributed to all cats (as is the case for humans). Nearsightedness occurs due to a refractive error where light coming into the eye focuses on the front of the retina (as opposed to behind the retina with farsightedness), resulting in blurry vision.

Nearsightedness is often confused with the function of rod and cone cells in a cat’s eye and how this relates to cats seeing objects with lower resolution/detail than humans in many cases during both day and night.

Why Do Cats’ Eyes Glow in the Dark?

Ginger tabby cat sitting on fence in the dark with glowing eyes.

When we look back at the image above that details the structure of a cat’s eye, we can see that near the retina at the back of the eye is something called the tapetum lucidum. This structure catches light that may have passed between the rod and cone photoreceptors and is not absorbed by the retina, and reflects this light back to them to provide another chance for supporting their vision in the dark. Inevitably, some of this light is still not picked up by the photoreceptors and that light escapes and reflects back out from the eye, which accounts for the infamous shine that we see when looking at a cat’s eyes in the dark. The tapetum lucidum provides greater light sensitivity, and it is estimated that this structure allows a cat to see six to eight times better than we can in the dark.

Do Some Cat Breeds See Better in the Dark?

Currently, there isn’t strong evidence that some cat breeds see better in the dark than others. However, there is research on eye problems to which some cat breeds are more prone, which could affect a cat’s ability to see in daylight or darkness. For example, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an eye disorder that causes retinal degeneration. There are different forms of this condition—early onset, which is an inherited disorder also known as retinal dysplasia, and late onset PRA. While their timeline of progression differs, these conditions typically affect both rod and cone cell function, leading to progressive vision loss and ultimately blindness. Research shows that the Abyssinian , Persian and Persian-derived breeds, such as the Himalayan , are at a higher risk for the inherited form of PRA.

Persian cat with an orange coat, sitting against a white background.

Proactive Cat Care with Basepaws

Basepaws can help you get to know your cat better—both inside and out! When it comes to understanding your cat’s risk for developing a condition that could affect their eyes, Basepaws has you covered. A Breed + Health Cat DNA Test screens for 43 genetic diseases, including eye conditions such as glaucoma or progressive retinal atropy (PRA) Don’t delay in taking proactive steps to care for your cat’s eyes, along with their overall health and well-being!

Tags: Cat Care, Cat Facts, Cat Health

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