Cats’ vision is markedly different from humans, which makes sense since kitties’ eyesight is finely tuned to help them function as predators, while human visual abilities developed to allow us to see up close as well as scan the horizon for food and predators. Cats’ eyes, on the other hand, were developed to provide them with superior hunting skills.
Felines are unable to discern objects that are far away clearly, but 20 feet is their sweet spot. They struggle to see things further away or nearer than 20 feet. Most humans can clearly see objects anywhere from 100–200 feet in the distance. Read on for more information about cats’ visual abilities.
Why Can’t Cats See Clearly Up Close or Far Away?
Humans have eyes that can focus on both near and far objects. When we look at any object, we essentially perceive light. Those lightwaves pass through our corneas, where they’re focused.
That focused light then passes through our ocular lenses before hitting our retinas, which then pass signals on to our brains through our optic nerves. Humans have special ocular muscles, called ciliary muscles, attached to our optic lenses. These muscles change the shape of our lenses, allowing us to focus and see clearly at different distances.
The process of changing focus from near to far or vice versa is called accommodation. Cats have ciliary muscles, but they can’t support the range of lens motion you see in humans, limiting kitties’ ability to accommodate.
Why Do Cats Have a Reputation for Having Great Vision?
Because they do! Cats can see things we simply can’t in ways that humans could never come close to replicating. Cats have tons of rod cells, 6 to 8 times as many as humans, giving them fantastic night vision.
Most cats can see up to six times better than humans in dark conditions, which makes sense given that dusk and dawn, two lowlight periods, tend to be cats’ favorite times to hunt. Felines also have an organ we lack, the tapetum lucidum, which reflects and magnifies light. It’s part of the reason cats have such incredible night vision.
They also have a wider range of vision as they can clearly see around 200°. Humans have a much narrower field of vision. We can see about 120°, which gives cats a clear edge regarding this element of visual perception.
Are Cats Able to See Colors?
Probably not, but there’s a fair bit of debate on the issue. Retinal cones are responsible for color differentiation and daytime visual acuity. Humans have about 10 times more retinal cones than cats, giving us the edge when it comes to seeing during the day and in color.
Believe it or not, there’s not a scientific consensus on how many colors cats can see. Some scientists argue cats can only see two colors, blue and green, while others suggest kitties can see colors, just in muted tones and without the ability to differentiate between yellow, red, green, and orange.
So How Do Cats See Close Up?
Cats rely on their whiskers to help them feel when interacting with things at close range. Cats’ whiskers are incredibly sensitive. Each side of a cat’s muzzle has 12 whiskers, with each one connected to anywhere from 100–200 neurons, making them exquisitely sensitive. Cats also have whiskers above their eyes and on their chins!
Cats feel changes in airflow and motion through their whiskers; whiskers help cats sense when a mouse zips by right under their nose. They also help kitties determine spatial relationships and provide information about whether or not a space is too small to fit into.
And cat’s paws provide assistance in the up close “vision” department. Cat paws are full of sensitive nerve endings, allowing them to feel vibrations and subtle movements that we could not detect. Between cats’ whiskers and paws, they do just fine when “seeing” their prey up close.
Do Cats Ever Have Vision Problems?
Yes, some cats are born blind or with a congenital disease that drastically limits their vision. A relatively high proportion of Persian and Abyssinian cats suffer from photoreceptor dysplasia, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to see in both low-light conditions and during the day.
Cats suffer from many of the same eye diseases as humans, including cataracts, uveitis, and ocular tumors. Others become blind as a result of uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes. Of course, cats can also lose their eyesight after being injured in a catfight.
Kitties who are having trouble seeing often refuse to jump as they did in the past and tend to bump into things. Some have cloudy eyes, or the pupil(s) in the impacted eye(s) will remain permanently dilated. Many cats that are blind will use walls to help guide them as they go about their day.
If you suspect your cat is having trouble seeing, make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes need to be diagnosed and treated to ensure your buddy’s vision and general health don’t decline further. Early detection and treatment may help preserve some of your pet’s vision.
If your feline companion can’t see anymore due to age, disease, or injury, it’s not the end of the world. Most cats live happy, healthy lives after losing their vision, particularly kitties accustomed to living indoors.
Remember to supervise your cat’s outdoor adventures and keep things under control by insisting that they wear a harness attached to a leash. Leave the furniture where it is if you can; your cat will be getting around on their own just fine sooner rather than later! But make sure to introduce your kitty to any new furniture layouts or toys. It will help them adjust, and they’ll love you even more than they already do!
Cats see best at a distance of about 20 feet. They also have excellent night vision and are skilled at picking up motion and determining speed, making them outstanding night hunters. Cat’s eyes are optimized for nabbing prey and are great at detecting quick movements. Cats also have wide fields of vision and can see amazingly well in the dark.
Featured Image Credit: M_Light, Shutterstock