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Are Cats Scared of the Dark? Vet Reviewed Facts & FAQ

Elizabeth Gray

By Elizabeth Gray

black and white cat face close up in a dark room

Vet approved

Dr. Amanda Charles Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Amanda Charles

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Derm) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If your ordinarily brave feline is suddenly acting like a scaredy cat as soon as the sun goes down, you might wonder what’s going on. Is your cat truly fearful of the night, or is something else to blame? Cats typically aren’t scared of the dark, but there are several medical and behavioral reasons why they could be acting differently in low-light situations.

In this article, we’ll learn why cats are usually comfortable in the dark, as well as answer some frequently asked questions about why you might notice them acting scared of the dark.

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Why Cats Usually Embrace the Darkness

Cats are generally comfortable functioning with minimal light, and they can see in the dark much better than humans. In the wild, cats are most active at dawn and dusk, getting their hunting in without the sun. Because of that, their eyes are adapted to do more with the light they have.

If you’ve ever observed your cat’s eyes, you might have noticed that their pupils get bigger in the dark. A cat’s pupils can dilate into full circles to allow as much light as possible into their eyes to help them see. The retina at the back of the eye contains the two types of photoreceptors that sense light- rods and cones. Cats have more rods which are responsible for vision in dim light. They also have a reflective layer of tissue at the back of their eye to absorb even more light, this is what causes the characteristic blue or greenish glow to their eyes at night

While cats still can’t see in the complete absence of light, their unique eye adaptations allow them to make the most of even the smallest amount to help them see. They can see 6 times better in dim light than people.

black cat with blue eyes sitting in the dark
Image Credit: Dorrell Tibbs, Unsplash

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are Kittens Afraid of the Dark?

Kittens sometimes act more fearful in the dark than adult kitties. Although kittens develop full eyesight when they’re about 5 weeks old, it can take some time to adjust. Kittens may find the darkness disorienting, leading to fear and anxiety.

scared kitten hiding
Image Credit: Khamidulin Sergey, Shutterstock

My Cat Used to Go Out at Night, and Now They Won’t. What Happened?

As we mentioned, cats generally aren’t scared of the dark. Kitties that suddenly don’t want to go out at night are more likely afraid of something that happened to them while it was dark, instead of the low light. For example, maybe your cat has been fighting with a stray kitty in the area or been chased by a predator at night.

Could There Be a Medical Reason My Cat Seems Afraid of the Dark?

One of the most common reasons cats start acting nervous in the dark is due to a medical condition. Anything that affects their vision could cause a change in their behavior, particularly in low level light. Night blindness is one of the first signs of a non-painful eye issue called progressive retinal atrophy (PRA.) This genetic condition disorder of the retina affects the rod photoreceptor cells first, causing the lack of vision in low level lights. Vision loss worsens over months to years.

Because PRA develops gradually, you may not notice your cat has it until they start having trouble seeing in low light.

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Conclusion

With eyes adapted to see in low light, cats typically aren’t afraid of the dark. If they act nervous at night or bump into things in dark rooms, there’s probably a different explanation. Consider making an appointment with your veterinarian to check for any medical reasons for the change in behavior.

Going outside at night can be dangerous for cats due to the number of predators who hunt in the dark. Keep your kitty safely inside, where they only need to find their bed and food bowl in the dark.


Featured Image Credit: Yulcha, Shutterstock

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