We’re all familiar with the idea that dogs only see in black and white, but what about cats? Cats are apex predators, so it would only make sense that they’d have a fantastic sense of eyesight. We know that cats can see in low light environments, so it seems like they’d be able to see some colors to help them differentiate between objects in that type of environment. If you’ve ever wondered if cats can see color, and if they can, what colors cats can see?
Do Cats See Color?
If you remember back to your middle school science class, you learned about the rods and cones within the eye that determine different parts of vision. Cones are responsible for color vision, and different cones are responsible for seeing red, yellow, and green shades. Cats, dogs, and humans all have the cones responsible for all three colors. What this means is that cats (and dogs!) can see color. It also means that cats can see the same colors that humans can see.
What’s the Difference in Cats’ and Humans’ Vision?
That is the real question. If cats can see the same colors that humans can see, that means the color vision is the same, right? Well, not exactly. Humans have approximately 10 times more cones in their eyes than cats do. What this means is that cats can pretty much see the same colors as humans, but humans can see a broader range of colors. The way that cats see colors is considered relatively comparable to how different types of colorblindness appear in humans. For example, scientists believe that cats see reds as shades of green and purples as shades of blue.
For perspective, think of the range of red you can see. You can see everything from the softest pastel yellow to the darkest mustard yellow. Your cat, on the other hand, is more likely to see a smaller, duller yellow range. While you can see tiny differences between similar shades of the same color, your cat is not likely to be able to see the difference. Imagine if you were viewing the world with duller colors, almost like viewing things on a dreary day, and that likely gives you an idea of how your cat sees the world.
It’s also worth noting that humans have significantly better distance vision than cats do. The baseline for human vision is 20/20, which means that someone can see something at 20 feet away that the average person sees at 20 feet away. Cats, on the other hand, have a visual acuity between 20/100 to 20/200. This means that what your cat can see at 20 feet away, you can see at 100 – 200 feet away.
How Are Cats Such Effective Hunters?
It may be surprising to learn that cats not only have less color vision than humans, but a lower visual acuity as well. How can cats be apex predators without the best vision? For one, cats have a broader range of sight than humans do. Cats have a visual field that’s around 200 degrees, which is larger than our visual field of 180 degrees, but that’s their only visual benefit over humans.
It’s important to remember that cats have much stronger senses of smell and hearing than humans. For perspective, cats’ sense of smell is around 14 times better than ours. While you walk around the house trying to decide if you caught a faint whiff of something smelly, your cat smelled it when the smell first appeared and has already identified the smell, has determined it isn’t a threat, has responded to it, and has gone back to sleep. Your cat can smell a mouse in the next room while you don’t even know there’s a mouse in the house.
Were you surprised to learn that cats don’t have great vision? Cats of all sizes are some of the top predators in the world, so clearly what they’re doing is working well for them. We rely heavily on our sense of sight, so it can be difficult for us to grasp how a top predator can get along so well with a sense of sight that is poorer than our own. Cats easily outdo us when it comes to basically all other senses, though. This makes them extremely efficient and effective hunters, and while their color vision and visual acuity is lower than ours, they have far better low light vision than we do.
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Featured Image Credit: Stanimir G.Stoev, Shutterstock