3 Fascinating Facts About Your Cat’s Eyes

If you’re reading this article, you’re human. That means sight is your dominant sense, but for cats, things are quite different.

Jun 30, 2024byAbigail Gould

fascinating facts about cats eyes


“I know exactly what she’s staring at!” thought no cat parent ever! Understanding what could possibly be happening inside that adorable little head is one of life’s great mysteries. While it’s true that human beings will never fully understand how cats literally see the world, that hasn’t stopped us from trying!


This article will shed some light on how cats’ eyes work. Maybe, by the end of it, you will even be able to guess why Twinkles finds the living room wall so interesting.


First: How Well Do Cats See?

close up of cat eye with reflection
Image credit: Pixabay


One of the many remarkable facts about your cat’s eyes is how adept they are at capturing movement. The slightest, quickest motion that barely registers with us, a cat sees and follows in detail. In fact, if something is moving slowly enough, a cat will perceive it as not moving at all! Not to mention, a cat’s eyes are also formed for magnificent distance and depth perception.


However, according to BBC Earth Unplugged, cats can’t see as far into the distance as us. As humans, if we were to observe a bird 148 feet away, a cat would need to get all the way up to 23 feet to see it clearly.


Cats’ near vision isn’t too good either. Up close, their vision is blurry, but that’s okay because felines have whiskers and a phenomenal sense of smell that take over.


While humans have a twenty-degree field of peripheral vision, cats have up to thirty degrees. This gives cats’ eyes a greater total visual field because they can see 200 degrees around their body in comparison with the 180 degrees that we get.


1. Cats See in Color 

cat eyes close up
Image credit: Pinterest


Do cats see in black and white? The answer is no, they don’t. Cats can see in color because their eyes have photoreceptor cells.


So, cats do have color, just not the whole rainbow. They can see greys, blues, and yellows quite well. But a cat’s eye can’t distinguish red pigments from green ones. In kitty-world, stalking a red mouse in a green field would be a problem—although that scenario is rather unlikely.


In short, cats’ eyes are equipped with color vision. But since they have fewer cones, they don’t see the full spectrum of shades. And, the hues their eyes do receive are not as bright as we know them to be.


2. Cats See in the Twilight  

silhouette of cat at sunset
Image credit: Facebook


There is a popular misconception that cats can see in the dark because they are nocturnal. But actually, cats cannot see in total darkness.


What’s more, cats are not nocturnal animals. Instead, they’re crepuscular, like ferrets and coyotes. This means that cats are most alert at twilight. Their eyes don’t let them down in that dim radiance shortly before dawn and a little after sunset. Your cat’s eyes are engineered to work in low-light conditions. They have six to eight times more rods than human eyes, meaning they can see six to eight times better in dark conditions.


cats eyes with contracted pupils
Image credit: Union Lake Veterinary Hospita & Pet Services


Cat’s eyes are optimally shaped for making the most of whatever light is available. The cornea is large, and the pupils are elliptical. That means, when your kitty has fully dilated pupils, her photoreceptors can capture light from the smallest source.


As humans, we are temporarily blinded when our eyes are suddenly exposed to glare. Cats’ pupils cope better with changes in brightness because they dilate and contract faster than our peepers can!


Furthermore, cats’ vision is superb, even in bright conditions since their pupils contract down to a very small area, protecting the retina.


So, when Twinkles goes from frolicking in the sun to catching a house mouse, the muscles controlling her pupils are quick to adjust, allowing her to see clearly!


3. Cats Have Reasons for Staring 

kitten with pupils dilated
Image credit: PetHelpful


Here’s an odd cat behavior. Have you ever caught your cat staring at something apparently invisible? Your cat looks intently at a spot on the wall (or into the ether) and you try peering at the same place but can’t see a thing?


There is a chance—depending on the situation—that your cat is hearing something rather than looking at something. Cats can hear incredibly well, and they can even “focus” on certain sounds. It’s possible that your cat is listening to something far beyond your range of perception.


On the other hand, perhaps there is some spectral glimmer of ultraviolet light, or maybe even a color captivating your cat’s attention—one that really is unfathomable to the human eye.


long haired cat sitting by window
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


Do you ever find yourself the subject of an unnerving feline gaze? That’s because cats communicate with their eyes. Changes in pupil size reveal your cat’s mood and even express affection. Plus, cats convey their positive emotions toward us through slow blinking. (And also headbutting their owners!)


So, if your cat is staring straight at you with large, dilated pupils while gently half-closing her eyes, she is telling you that she loves you very much. However, if her pupils have suddenly contracted, she is glaring at you, and you might want to excuse yourself from her majestic presence.


Bonus Fun Facts About Your Cat’s Eyes 

tabby cat visible nictitating membrane
Image credit: Plymouth Veterinary Hospital


Did you know that your cat’s eyes can see UV light waves? The ability to see UV rays is yet another impressive factor that helps cats’ eyes function in low light.


Have you heard of a tapetum lucidum? It’s a layer of optical tissue found in some animals, including cats. It captures and reflects light within the eye, giving the rods the best chance of doing their job. Again, cats only need the faintest glow to see things.


Cats have an additional eyelid called the nictitating membrane. This important structure protects the eye during hunting and prowling. It also helps to spread tear secretions further across the cornea, sometimes making your cat’s eyes seem watery.


Cats: Seeing Things Differently

glaring tabby cat
Image credit: EquiGroomer


How would you describe what colors look like? Think about it. It turns out that describing how a creature sees the world is a difficult thing to do. Fortunately, we have the work of researchers such as Nickolay Lamm to enlighten us.


While cats don’t see the same spectrum of colors or the same resolution as us, their eyes are no less impressive—especially since sight isn’t actually a cat’s strongest sense! At the end of the day, the way cats move through the world is vastly different from what we experience as humans.


Your cat’s eyes are fascinating. The way they work could fill pages!


If you’d like to learn more about your cat’s senses, check out some of our other cat-related articles!

Abigail Gould
byAbigail Gould

Abigail’s experience with animals comes from growing up on a farm. She has been fortunate enough to look after cats, dogs, ducks, geese, chickens, and guinea pigs. Of all the pets she’s cared for, guinea pigs have been the most entertaining, dogs the most rewarding, and cats the most essential!