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Cat Vision: How Cats See The World

The all-seeing cat.

The all-seeing cat.

Feline Vision: How Cats See the World

Beautiful, intense, warm, and a little freaky all come to mind when we think about a cat's eyes. How much of what we think we know about these feline peepers is true? Do they really have superior super-feline vision? Does that reflection in the night happen for a reason? How does a cat's vision measure up to human or canine sight? And finally, do cats see in color like we do? Today we will be taking a look at just how well our feline friends see, and how it compares to other sighted creatures. Next time you look into those kitty cat eyes, you'll know exactly what you're looking at!

Do Cats See in Color?

Cats don't exactly see in "full color." To be a successful predator—and cats are very much so—they don't really need to see in a full spectrum of colors. Even though cats would appear to see the view around them in an overlapping binocular "night vision" of gray-scales, whites and blacks (as the day turns to night they require very acute visual ability), test results would indicate that they manage to gradually discriminate between colors. Cats actually use all of their genetic senses to "feel" their way through life. This is never more utilized than when hunting prey in the dark and, as with other predatory species, cats don't really need to see all of the colors in the spectrum to keep their family fed.

Cat Vision vs. Human Vision

When it is all said and done, we humans have just about the same binocular vision as do our feline counterparts. With that being said, humans do have a lesser fixed field of vision than do cats. Our eyes are placed—literally—parallel on our egg-shaped (oblong) face. This design gives us a slightly smaller fixed field of vision when compared to cats. The sight architecture of a cat is such that its eyes are placed marginally to either side of its thinner narrower face. A human's overlapping vision spans around 210 degrees, whereas a hunt-prepared cat gets about 285 degrees of fixed field of vision.

A diagram comparing a cat's field of vision to that of humans and dogs.

A diagram comparing a cat's field of vision to that of humans and dogs.

Do Cats See Better than Dogs?

Due to the fact that cats sport a more sophisticated eye structure, allowing for some night vision, they do see better than dogs. But there is little to no difference between canine and feline vision, although dogs usually have a narrower field of vision. With the many "task specific" K9 skull configurations—for example, greyhound vs. bulldog skull structure—you would think this comparison to be unmeasurable. But, it has been tested and on average, a dog's fixed field of vision ranges from 250 degrees to 290 degrees; where they fall short in terms of a cat is in binocular overlap, which is 80 to 110. (A cats binocular overlap is 130; a humans is 120). See diagram "Cat Field of vision" for stereoscopic effects in all three species.

Closeup of a cat's eye

Closeup of a cat's eye

Why Do Cat Eyes Reflect Light?

And the answer is "tapetum!" The eyes of a cat have a reflective layer of cells directly behind their retina, which is called tapetum. Any of the light that does not get captured by the microscopic rod-like materials located at the very back of a cats eyes—particularly when the pupils are open and dilated wide—gets bounced back out of the eye. This action is what creates the distinct and characteristic glow or shine seen in a cats reflecting eyes. You will notice this effect in most land carnivores and seals. If you catch them just right, even a hungry human's eyes will reflect the light in this same manner. (Twilight, anyone?) Give it a try; shine a light into a cat's eyes at night when the pupils are large, and see the excess light get bounced back at you like two bright headlights. This image shows you the results I got when I did this little experiment!

The tapetum cells in the back of a cat's eyes make them glow brightly when direct light is shined into them.

The tapetum cells in the back of a cat's eyes make them glow brightly when direct light is shined into them.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Comments for "Feline Vision, Looking at How Cats Eyes See the World"

Thanks on July 09, 2015:

I've been searching for a while now on the cat's field of view (and other visual attributes of cats) as I am trying to prove to my friend that cats are physically and mentally superiour.

Simon Brown on February 26, 2013:

Cat eyes are physiologically different from human eyes, their sight is far less sharp than ours (they use smell and sound a lot more than we do) and have been adapted to detecting movement and operating in low light. Due to the way the pupil works, they have difficulty focusing anything nearer than about 30 inches - again they don't need to as whiskers and angled hearing take over for anything closer.

This old link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/471786.s... from the bbc (there was some video to accompany it but I can't find it) is fascinating - by using electrodes they were able to measure the activity of the thalamus, where the brain interprets what comes in through the eyes. Images are blurry as the technology is still in its infancy but definite patterns emerge. For normal "scenes" we can see the light and dark contrasts. However what I find really interesting is what happens when the cat sees a human face.

Have a look at the "human face" pictures.

When humans see other human faces we have a particular part of the brain which performs facial recognition. It's so well tuned that it can see faces where no faces exist (on the surface of Mars for example): simply put two eye "dots" a nose "dot" and a line underneath and the brain says "ooo - face"... And when we look at cat faces, we interpret them as being human faces (often smiling, or doing "evil" eyes when half-closed, even though in cat body language that actually is a sign of affection).

Now look at the "human face" pictures again:

Eyes are smaller, nose is more prominent, mouth is slightly narrower. We are seeing what the cat sees AFTER it has interpreted the scene: in other words just as we anthropomorphize what we see when we look at cats... they do the same to us. Cats have always behaved towards humans in a particular way - treating us as something between "mother" and "senior member of colony". These pictures prove the hypothesis - they literally see us as some kind of cat!

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on December 21, 2011:

Thank you each and every one who stopped by to check out how cats see the world! I am so glad you are finding the feline vision information new, and informative. I am so grateful for your time and comments here.

Cheers~

K9

Pamela Dapples from Arizona. on December 21, 2011:

Lots of new information here -- and it's all interesting. Thanks for the research you've done.

Melissa McClain from Atlanta, GA on December 17, 2011:

Interesting! I have always wondered how my vision compares to my cat's and dog's vision. It seems that (aside from the cats night vision abilities) that we aren't that different. Thanks for the hub! Voted Up!

Elsie Nelson from Pacific Northwest, USA on December 17, 2011:

Very interesting. I can't remember where I heard or read this, but I think they just determined cats can actually see more colors than they originally thought. I can't remember the details... many people mistakenly think they can only see black and white. I'm gonna got take the quiz now, it looks fun!

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on December 17, 2011:

Wow - awesome hub on cat's eyes! I learned so much - now I look at my K.C.'s golden eyes a bit differently. Love the quiz too... Rated up!

Mike Pugh from New York City on December 17, 2011:

Now this is a hub of all hubs for me, because I've read many many hubs in just 3 months. I'm amazed at how you explain in great detail everything about cats eyes, which has always perplexed me.

I think that people need to read more of your writing, so that they can get an idea of how to write hubs, that have sensibility to it, and that appeals to all of your senses.

I loved the part where you expressed the "Tapetum", because I never knew why cats eyes would glow in the dark, and I wondered if they were possessed or something when I was a child. I've grew up with cats my whole life, my mom use to love them when she was alive, so this was such a sensational read for me. Thanks for sharing such a nicely written and informative hub on cats.

Voted up on all levels accept for funny, cause the seriousness of cats eyes is no laughing matter :)

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on December 16, 2011:

Flora~ Boy, I don't like the sound of that! Animal testing has been called a necessary evil for human well-being; I just simply don't agree with the concept. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

HubHugs~

K9

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on December 16, 2011:

Esmeowl12~ Thanks for sharing your comments!

Cheers~

K9

FloraBreenRobison on December 16, 2011:

It is because their eyesight is so similar to ours that eye research - for us humans - is done on cats.

Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on December 16, 2011:

What an informative hub! Thanks for sharing!

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on December 16, 2011:

Simone~ So glad you feel you are learning a few tid-bits from the hubs. I simply can not resist the fizzy part of life! Thanks for the support!

HubHugs~

K9

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on December 16, 2011:

April Reynolds~ I understand you concern with your cats, mine have long ignored much of what we say to them, thus we thought for sure they were deaf. Come to find out, they were just being cats! It has to be on their terms at all times. I love those little creatures! Thanks for your comments.

Cheers~

K9

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on December 16, 2011:

pstraubie~ How fun that a little cat friend has come to dine with you, this makes you the chosen one. Thank you for sharing your story here!

Cheers~

K9

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on December 16, 2011:

DzyMsLizzy~ You are correct, and as stated,

"Cats don't exactly see in "full color". To be a successful predator—which cats are very much so—they don't really need to see in a full spectrum of colors."

They do see tints and can manage shades of colors. But they do not see the full spectrum. Great question ma'am!

HugHugs~

K9

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on December 16, 2011:

Another fascinating cat Hub! I'm learning so much from these, K9keystrokes!

April Reynolds from Arizona on December 16, 2011:

Thank you k9keystrokes, this is useful. I often wonder about how well my cat sees. Sometimes he acts like he can't see anything in the daytime, and other times he is so intent I wonder if he sees details better than me. I have also wondered if they can see color, since the only color string he will play with is red.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on December 16, 2011:

O, thank you for sharing this. I have just begun to really look into the eyes of my kitty who was left at my house abandoned, three years ago. She is mainly an outside kitty but has begun to come in to dine. Last night, as a matter of fact, she was lying beside me on the ocuch, gazing at me and I was allowed to look into her beautiful eyes. Your hub here answers many of the questions I have had about vision and my kitties.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on December 15, 2011:

Interesting. I thought I had read somewhere that cats DO see in color, but not the full spectrum of tints and hues that we humans can see. But they were shown to prefer one bowl color over another, in the study I read about.

Voted up and interesting.