To accurately answer the question of ’Are cats color blind?’ we have to look to science. According to research, the biggest difference between the eyes of the feline species and that of a human is found in the retina.
In this post, we will explore the world through the eyes of the cat – this is important and fascinating information for any feline pet parent.
The Cat’s Retina – It’s all about the Rods & Cones.
The retina (in any species) is a layer of tissue found at the back of the eyeball. Here are located cells called photoreceptors, which are responsible for changing rays of light into electrical signals. These are then processed by nerve cells (sent to the brain) where they are translated into images.
There are two types of photoreceptors cells:
- Rods: Responsible for night vision and peripheral vision. They also detect shades of gray and brightness.
- Cones: Detect color and day vision.
Cats have a higher concentration of rod receptors over cone receptors. This means they have better night vision and may also lack in the color-detection department.
How Cats See
What cats see is relatively the same as humans, but how cats see it is where the differences lie.
Color Perception in Cats
It’s a misconception and, frankly, a disservice to the feline species to think that they can only see shades of gray.
Science has proven that cats are trichromats, the same as humans, meaning we each have three kinds of cones that allow us to see red, blue, and green.
However, even though cats do possess this trichromat quality, their vision is similar to a human with color blindness – they can see green and blue but have difficulty distinguishing between reds and pinks (these may appear greener, or blue, depending on the hue).
The feline species also cannot see the same richness or depth of color as we can.
The Visual Field in Cats
A “visual field” refers to the area the eye can see when focusing on a single point. It includes not only the direct focal point, but also what is above, below, and from side-to-side. As humans, we have a visual field of 180 degrees, while our furry feline counterparts have a 200-degree field of vision.
The Visual Accuracy in Cats
This is how clear the field of vision is (and how an optometrist helps determine our vision using the eye chart). The average human should have 20/20 vision, whereas a cat will range from 20/100 to 20/200. This means what we see at 100 to 200 feet away, a cat would need to be 20 feet away to see it clearly. The feline species also lack the necessary muscles in their eyes to change the shape of the lenses required to focus on a distant object.
However, even though our furry pals are considered nearsighted, it does make them very adept at hunting and catching up-close prey.
Night Vision in Cats
It’s not a secret that the feline species can see better at night. This is because of a structure located behind the retina called the tapetum. Cells in the tapetum reflect light (like a mirror) back and forth between the rods and cones to the photoreceptors, where they can pick up any extra available light. This is also what makes the cat’s eyes “glow” that eerie green in the darkness.
How Cats See Humans
We’ve learned how the cat’s eyes work and how they perceive the world around them, but how do cats “see” humans?
Since the feline species is fairly nearsighted and somewhat color “challenged” we are probably viewed as blurry objects (unless we are very close to them – 6 to 20 inches) and if we have bright red hair, that will also not stand out to them.
As far as being seen as “another species,” the behavior of the cat is where the secret may lie. When cats greet each other (in a friendly manner) they rub their bodies and raise their tail, so when your cat displays this action to its pet parent, it can be interpreted as acceptance and even affection.
Another action cats exhibited to their humans is kneading – kittens knead their mothers for milk – so when your kitty cat kneads your lap, she’s treating you as a kitten does its mother.
Cats & Human Facial Recognition
A study conducted in 2005 to determine if cats (and dogs) could recognize their owners’ faces resulted in cats not doing so well. When shown a picture of their handler and a stranger, the cats only had facial recognition skills of their handlers about half of the time.
However, when the same study used a picture of a familiar cat and a strange one, the feline chose the familiar one 90.7% of the time.
So what does this mean to us devoted feline pet parents?
We know to go into a relationship with a cat that we will be viewed (for the most part) as “servants.” Whether the feline species can recognize us or they choose not to at the moment may have less to do with eyesight and more to do with the whole cat-a-tude persona.
Science has done its best to help us understand the way our pets see their world. Yes, it may be a bit blurry, and not so detailed, but our feline friends manage to navigate through it quite well. So if you have ever wondered ‘Are cats color blind?’ you can rest assured your furry pal is indeed, not.