Many people assume cats are color-blind, but it turns out that’s false.
Scientists have discovered that cats can see color including blues, yellows, greens, and reds. However, those colors are much less vivid than what humans see.
The best approximation of how cats can see comes from photos created by artist Nickolay Lamm in conjunction with three top veterinarians. In this series of photos, Lamm depicted several ways cats’ eyesight differs from humans.
Vision of Colors
Cat’s vision is similar to that of a color-blind human. They can see blues and greens, but have trouble seeing reds and pinks1. Cats distinguish blues and violets much better than other colors at the end of the spectrum.
The color difference is portrayed in this photo by Lamm. The cat’s view of the world is at the bottom.
Clearness of Vision
Humans also have the advantage when it comes to seeing more clearly. You can see the top picture (human’s vision) is much crisper than the cats.
Also, scientists believe humans have the benefit of seeing more vibrant hues and saturation of colors compared to felines.2
It is thought that cats are nearsighted as depicted below. It’s believed that this helps them stalk and catch prey.3 Objects that are close to them are very clear.
Why Do Humans See So Much Better in the Day?
The reason humans appear to have superior day vision is due to a higher number of cone photoreceptor cells. Photoreceptors are cells in the retina are responsible for converting light into electrical signals, then ultimately into the images we see.
There are two types of photoreceptor cells, cones and rods.
Cone photoreceptor cells are used for photopic vision, or vision under high light conditions like during the day. Rod photoreceptor cells, on the other hand, are used for scotopic vision or low light conditions like night time.
Therefore, due to the higher number of cone photoreceptor cells, it makes sense that humans can see better during the day.
So, do humans have the advantage when it comes to eyesight in general?
Not so fast. While humans have more cone photoreceptor cells, cats actually have more rod photoreceptor cells.
Extra rod cells help benefit cats in many ways when compared to humans as illustrated in the photos below.
Scientists have discovered that cats have a wider field of vision. Cats can see a 200 degree circumference when compared to humans’ vision of 180 degrees.
Sensitive to Dim Light
Humans may be the winners when it comes to seeing during the day, but cats have the advantage at night.
Due to the extra rods, cats can see in much less light than humans. Their eyes are more sensitive to dim light as depicted below.
Tapetum Lucidum Benefits
In addition to more rod cells, scientists have discovered that cats have a tapetum lucidum, a unique structure located behind their retina which assists in night vision.
The tapetum lucidum makes cats’ eyes glow and reflects light back to the photoreceptors it passed through, giving them another chance to pick up on the light.
This advantage makes them dangerous hunters at night.
One other interesting fact about cats’ vision is that they don’t need to blink nearly as often as humans do. Their eyes stay lubricated with tears which is probably another advantage for hunting prey.
There you have it.
It turns out a cat’s vision is much more interesting than you thought and cats can see color. Not only can felines see colors, but they have unique structures that allow them to see even better than humans do during the night.
Photos were taken by Nickolay Lamm who worked with Kerry L. Ketring, DVM, DACVO of All Animal Eye Clinic, Dr. DJ Haeussler of The Animal Eye Institute, and the Ophthalmology group at Penn Vet to create them.