Understanding Feline Vision: Decoding What Your Cat Sees
Have you ever pondered the colors that paint your cat’s world? Do those pet vision filters on Instagram reflect reality? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how our feline friends perceive their surroundings, and individual color vision varies, just like it does among humans. However, what we do know is that a cat’s color perception is likely similar to that of a colorblind human, favoring softer tones, particularly in the green and blue spectrum, while typically red and pink hues might appear somewhat washed out.
“Imagine the world through the lens of a colorblind individual — that’s the best way to relate to a cat’s vision. Their world is painted mainly in blues and greens, with reds and pinks possibly blending into these hues, turning purples into yet another variant of blue,” according to a report by Business Insider.
While we’ve uncovered the palette of a cat’s vision, their focus can often remain a mystery, like when they’re fixedly staring at an apparently empty ceiling.
“Every cat owner recognizes that bemused feeling when their cat seems transfixed by something unseen. Just what is capturing their attention?”
On social media, the viral cat vision filters paint a vividly green world, suggesting a permanent verdant St. Patrick’s Day. But in truth, a cat’s perception is not a monochromatic green; rather, it’s a blend of hues with a pastel-like quality.
A Cinematographer’s Perspective Through Cat Eyes In reality, cats likely experience the world in subdued tones, akin to a sun-bleached photograph or the soft-focus effect commonly used in film and television to create a somber atmosphere — an aesthetic some have playfully dubbed “intangible sludge.”
Inadvertently, many cinematographers might just be emulating the feline field of vision!
For entertainment, check out this humorous take on “What Cats See.”
Do Felines and Canines Share Color Vision? Previously, the scientific consensus was that cats, like dogs, had dichromatic vision, meaning they could only discern two primary colors. It’s known that dogs have dichromatic vision because they possess two types of cone cells for detecting yellow and blue, rendering red and green indistinct, possibly appearing as grey or brown — which may explain why those colorful dog toys are more for our enjoyment than theirs. However, it appears cats might see a broader spectrum.
Recent studies suggest that cats may actually have a degree of trichromatic vision, akin to humans, enabling them to see red, green, and blue. Humans see these colors via three types of cones in the retina. Research indicates cats can differentiate between red and orange against cyan blue, implying they have the cones necessary for detecting a range of colors, although their world view is far less vivid than our own full-color spectrum.
To illustrate, Buzz60 has a video exploring a cat’s visual perspective:
Cats (and dogs) possess a special feature known as “Night Vision SupurrPowers,” thanks to a reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum situated behind the retina, something humans lack. This “bright carpet” acts like a mirror, often giving animals a distinctive eye glow in flash photography. Exceptions include blue-eyed cats and dogs, whose lack of pigment in the tapetum may result in a red eye effect similar to humans.
This tapetum lucidum endows cats with superior night vision, akin to a natural night-vision apparatus. Yet, this comes at a cost, as their overall vision may be less sharp, especially at a distance.
“A classic example is the sudden cat frenzy when a foot moves just an inch under a blanket.”
Additionally, cats boast large, vertical pupils that dilate to let in maximum light, aiding their nocturnal escapades. They also have a higher density of rod cells for advanced night and peripheral vision.
So, would you swap our vivid human color vision for a cat’s night-time prowess? If we were in the business of twilight hunting, perhaps. But for now, we appreciate the vibrant colors that define our human experience, enriched by the presence of our enigmatic feline companions.
For a glimpse into the nocturnal antics of kittens, enjoy this video featuring the playful Maz and Calypso by Cole and Marmalade: