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Do cats see in colour?

Charlie ShortTail1278 views
Grey cat with yellow eyes

How does your cat view the world, and can your cat see in colour?

Until recently it was thought that cats did not see colours and were ‘colour blind’. Cats do not see in the same way as dogs, who can see only blue and yellow colours (hues). Indeed, your cat does not see colours in the same way that you do. However, cats have been trained to distinguish between colours and it was shown that the cats were able to tell the difference between red and blue, red and green, blue and yellow and red, yellow and green from grey. Cats do see in colour.

Test your cat to see if he or she can tell the difference between the primary colours.

You will need three identical objects (the same size and shape, but one in red, one in blue and one in yellow). A box is a good object to use. Keep the boxes in the same location for a week. To start the training show your cat that there is a favourite treat in one box (choose red or blue colour) and over a 5 days keep putting the treat in there and show and help your cat to retrieve the treat. After 5 days move the order of the boxes (but leave them in the same place). Does your cat go the correct colour box? This is fun to do especially if you have more than one cat. Some cats are quicker than others so if your cat does not pick the correct box go back to the initial training and then repeat the test. Ask your friends to do the same with their cats and compare results.
Why red or blue? Cats can distinguish red and blue more easily than yellow.

How does a cat’s eye work?

Let’s look at the cat’s eye and the structure of the feline eye.

cats eye

Ocular abilities in cats – why your cat is so good at seeing in the dark

Cats have specialised eyes, being well adapted to their hunting requirements. Cats can see much better in dim light than people, a skill important for night hunting. This enhanced night vision is because the cat’s eye has firstly more rods than in a human eye, but fewer cones. Rods and cones are receptor cells in the retina of the eye, having more rods gives better vision at night although having fewer cones means the image is less sharp. The shape of the reflector cells gives the nerve cells their names – rods and cones.

Why do my cats’ eyes glow in the dark?

In the cat’s eyes is a special light-conserving unit called the ‘tapetum lucidum’. This reflects any light which is not absorbed as it passes through the retina. This mechanism is also why your cat’s eyes glow in the dark – the light hits the cat’s eyes at a certain angle and the cat’s eyes appear to glow in the dark. This ‘glow’ will happen when the cat’s pupil is at its widest.


Cats eyes versus human eyes

Cats and humans both have the same type of colour-sensitive cone nerve cells in their eyes. People have about ten times more than cats do – so humans can identify many more subtle shades and colour variations (hues) than cats can.
Humans have better colour vision, although cats do have better colour vision than dogs.
Cats have more rod nerve cells in their eyes and have better sensitivity in dim light.
Cats have a specialised mechanism to reflect more light into the eye. Cats see better in the dark (we all knew that!)
Cats have binocular vision. This means that parts of the field of vision of each eye overlap. Binocular vision is essential for hunting so that the cat can judge distance, depth and size. In simple terms, the cat has three- dimensional vision. Humans also have binocular vision.
Cats are also much more near-sighted than people so humans can see much better at seeing detail close to them. A cat’s vision will be much blurrier when looking at objects very close to them. Cats, however, are much better at spotting movement at a close range – think about when you play with your cat and how quick they are to spot a flick or swish of a cat toy. It also explains why your cat may not see something very close to his or her face.
Cats can see best at around 20 feet away – essential to spot prey. Objects in the distance appear blurry around the edges to cats, helping them focus on the important task of finding prey.

cats eyes blue
Cat’s eyes are less forward-facing and spaced more widely than in humans, this gives the cat a wider range of view, useful for spotting predators. People have a narrower field of vision, but we are better at judging distance and depth.
The cat’s pupil can dilate and change in size dramatically, much more than in humans. This is all about catching as much light as possible. Cats see best at dusk and at dawn – when hunting cats are generally most successful.

Which eyesight is better cat or human?

A cat needs a wide range of vision and better night vision.
Humans need to be able to distinguish between tiny details and be able to judge height, distance and depth accurately. We need to be able to see a wide variety of colour and shades.
We have both adapted to our needs; eyesight is a specialised trait in both cats and humans.

Why do Siamese cats have poorer vision than other cats?

The Siamese cat has a gene which causes abnormal nerve connections between the brain and the eyes. This means that Siamese cats have less developed three-dimensional vision.