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A Guide to Your Kitten's Senses: Vision

Are cats color-blind? Can they see in the dark? What makes a cat's eyes glow at night? And how well can cats see, anyway? Here are some fast facts about your cat's vision:

  • Your kitten has the eyes of a consummate hunter. Dark-adapted, exquisitely motion-sensitive, with a broad field of vision, a cat's eyes allow her navigate in situations that would leave a person blind and confused.

  • A cat's pupils can narrow to barely visible slits in bright light and dilate to fill almost the entire visible area of the eye in darkness. Because your kitten's pupils can dilate so widely, she can see in light about six times dimmer than humans can. She hunts at dusk because that's the time of day when her eyes are designed to work best.

  • Your kitten has a layer of specially pigmented cells behind her retina that reflects back any light shined at it. This layer, the tapetum lucidum, acts like a mirror and gives the cat a second chance to see an image by bouncing the light back through the retina. The tapetum lucidum is what produces the gold or green “eye shine”you see when car headlights or a flashlight is directed toward her eyes. (Siamese cats have a different type of reflecting cells in their eyes; as a result, their eye shine is red rather than green or gold.)

  • Cats follow movement very well. They have specialized nerve cells in their brains that respond to any motion detected by their hunting-adapted eyesight, and they can judge distances very accurately.

  • Despite all the advantages of feline vision, your kitten's eyesight also suffers as a result of the evolutionary adaptation for hunting. The latest research indicates that cats' color vision is quite limited. Although they can see shades of green and blue, they cannot see red. A dusk hunter does not need to be able to distinguish colors, so cats' eyes don't function as well as humans' in terms of color perception.

  • Your kitten doesn't see well in broad daylight because her pupils constrict so greatly in order to avoid damaging the retina. She has to use her whiskers, hearing, and sense of smell to navigate when the sun is high in the sky.

  • Cats are quite farsighted. They cannot focus well on objects nearer than about six feet away, and they can't focus on fine detail.

  • Blind cats compensate for their disability by using their whiskers to detect obstacles. These cats play by using their whiskers, feeling the vibrations in their paw pads, and using their excellent hearing to detect even the faintest noises.

Advice from Other Cat Owners 

Before You Adopt That Kitten

Before you bring that cute kitten home, please take a good look at your life and ask yourself some questions, particularly if you are young (the highest demographic for pet surrenderers is females, age 18-25).

Remember, cats live for 15-20 years and will need regular vet care for their whole life. Ask yourself, what will I do when I move? Am I willing to go the extra mile to find pet-friendly housing and take the cats along? (Even if your job sends you across the country or into another).

What will I do when I get married? What if my spouse is allergic to the cats, has big unfriendly dogs, or just doesn't like cats? How will I deal with that? What happens when I start having children? Will I be willing to help the cats make that transition during that busy and exciting time in my life? Will I be willing to keep them seperate if my baby is allergic? What happens if I get divorced? (Statistics say that you will). Will I fight to keep my pets during this personal crisis?

These questions may sound ridiculous, but I assure you they are not. The answers to these questions mean the difference between life and death every day- to the tune of 20 million 'No' answers a year (the number of animals surrendered to shelters across the U.S. in a year). It is a big commitment folks, think about it!

~Alex K., owner of Breed Unknown

Introducing Your New Kitten to Your Older Cat

Kittens will most likely get along great because they are so young, although it may take a day or two. My two cats were about 10 months when I brought home two kittens and it didn't go smoothly at all. The young kittens were excited to meet the older cats but the older cats were petrified of them.

What I learned is that cats react to smell and it's best to introduce them that way first. The advice from a cat expert was: keep them separate and give them each something that smells of the other one (towel/blanket etc). Once that goes well, then introduce them physically. It was fascinating because when I presented my cats with the towel smelling like the new kittens, the cats hissed and swatted at it, then ran in fear. Eventually they started to investigate it. You may not need this step but I wanted to share it just in case.

~Cindy W., owner of Breed Unknown

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