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How Far Can Cats See?

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

Blue-eyed tabby cat

As notorious hunters, cats are expected to have perfect vision. Their ability to spot mice scurrying around is impressive, as is their night vision. However, it can be surprising to know that cats can only see about 20 feet in front of them with clarity.

While we’ve all heard speculation about how well dogs can see, the same can’t be said about felines. We might adore them to bits, but unfortunately, they seem to be less worthy of study than canines.

To make up for the lapse and answer a few questions, we put together this guide.

Why Are Cats Nearsighted?

While most humans can see clearly for 100–200 feet, to our cats, the world that far away just looks blurry. It’s the downside of having excellent night vision.

Their near-sightedness is caused by the size of their eyes. While they’re perfect for hunting in hours of low light, they’re not great at focusing on objects too close or too far away. For objects up close, you’ll find that your cat will use their whiskers to “see” clearly.

Interestingly, this near-sightedness differs between indoor and outdoor cats. While your house cat might be better with close-up objects, your outdoor feline is better able to see things farther away.

White cat with one blue and one yellow eye
Image Credit: Gaz_D, Pixabay

How Do Cats See the World?

The variations in human eyes and those of our cats are why we each see the world in different ways.

Distances

Knowing that cats are nearsighted, you’re probably wondering how they can see things at a distance. If you have an outdoor cat that runs to greet you from the end of the street as you come home from walking the dog, this can be even more confusing! Since they can’t pick out details far away, it seems unlikely that they’d recognize us at all.

As hunters, cats rely more on their other senses, like their senses of smell and hearing. Their determined patience when it comes to waiting out prey helps too. When it comes to running to join you at the end of the road, those senses are what come into play more than their sight.

Your cat is familiar with your scent and the sound of your voice. Both of these things tell them who just rounded the corner.

Balinese,Cat,,Kitten,With,Blue,Eyes,Is,Lying,On,The
Image Credit: 8H, Shutterstock

Color and Night Vision

Cats are much like dogs in their ability to see colors. Unlike humans, the photoreceptors in their eyes are less able to differentiate between hues.

We have cone-shaped cells in our retinas, while cats have rods instead. These cells make the difference between day and night vision. Cones are the reason that we can see in color and during the day. Rods, on the other hand, are why both cats and dogs have limited color vision and a better ability to see at night.

The rods in their eyes enable cats to thrive during the times that they’re most active. Since they’re most active at dusk and dawn, the ability to draw in more light to see is beneficial.

Their nightly escapades are also supported by the shape of their eyes. They have mirror-like cells — in a layer called the tapetum — behind their retina, which helps reflect light to the photoreceptors. It’s the tapetum that makes cats’ eyes glow when light hits them.

Motion

Rods are also why cats find it easier to see fast-moving objects. While they can struggle to notice things moving slowly, quick movements are more easily picked up. A laser pointer, a dragonfly, or even a mouse hiding in your kitchen are all prime targets.

Your cat’s ability to notice motion is why their playfulness comes out more when they’re faced with something that moves, whether that’s your toes or a toy.

British shorthair cat Silver chocolate color yellow eyes
Image Credit: lowpower225, Shutterstock

Visual Field

Cats might not rely solely on their eyesight when it comes to catching mice, but they do have an extra edge when it comes to seeing. Despite their limitations when it comes to sight, their peripheral vision extends about 200 degrees.

We only have a 180-degree view, so you can guess how much this extra sight-line helps when it comes to catching prey.

Final Thoughts

All predators have their weaknesses. For cats, it’s their ability to see over long distances. Unlike humans, cats can only see up to 20 feet away, and they’re not great at focusing on objects too close in front of them.

Their nearsightedness doesn’t stop them from excelling at hunting prey, though. With their night-vision, enhanced ability to see movement, superior senses of smell and hearing, and boundless patience, cats are among the best hunters in the world.

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Featured Image Credit: cocoparisienne, Pixabay

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