Can cats see in the dark, or is it just a myth? If you’ve ever wondered about your feline friend’s vision, look no further. To understand just how cats see things a little differently from us, you’ll need to know a bit about human eyesight. Humans see in color because most of us have three types of color receptor cones that detect red, green, and blue. These cones also pick up on the different intensities and proportions of these colors, and our brains piece all of this together to make up our colorful world and all the different shades in it.

Do Cats See in Color?

Yes, but not as richly as humans do. The human retina has about 10 times more cones than a cat, with light receptors that function best in bright light. Humans also have three types of cones that pick up the different intensities of colors. While cats also have three types color receptor cones, their vision is lacking in the richness and saturation in comparison to a human. Cats’ vision is mostly limited to blues and grays, with a little bit of green thrown in.

Can Cats See in the Dark?

Cats are crepuscular – meaning they’re most active at dusk and dawn – which explains their need for night vision. The human field of view is 180 degrees, but cats can see up to 200 degrees, giving them a greater range of peripheral vision. Cat eyes also have six to eight times more rod cells than humans. These rod cells are more sensitive to low light, meaning they can sense motion in the dark. Like dogs, cats also have a tapetum lucidum, which is a reflective layer behind the retina that that sends light back into the eye, improving their ability to see in the dark. The tapetum also shifts with the amount of light (think of how a cat’s pupil will shrink or expand), making prey or other objects more visible in the dark – like your feet when you’re trying to go to sleep. Cats cannot see in complete darkness, but they can see in very low light.

What Can’t Cats See?

Cats are more near-sighted than humans. Humans can see objects clearly at 100 to 200 feet away, but cats need to be at 20 feet to see objects in focus. Additionally, cats lack the muscles needed to change the shape of their eye lenses, so they can’t see things as close-up as humans can and need to be standing at a bit of a distance. However, cats’ eyes are especially well adapted at picking up fast movement, like the scurrying and darting of a critter, but slow-moving objects may appear stationary to them. If an object is too close to a cat’s mouth, they will rely on their whiskers to “see” it for them instead of their eyes, which is why sometimes if you stick a toy right in front of their face, it takes a second for your feline buddy to realize it.
So the next time your cat is able to pounce on a half hidden toy across the room, but can’t seem to find the treat you tossed literally right in front of them, you’ll know why.