Can cats see in the dark? Can we see red? Are we colorblind? Not really. But we do see colors differently than you do. And about seeing in the dark… it depends on how dark it is.
Can cats see in the dark, Thomasina? I want to move my cat’s litter box to the basement. Will he be able to find it?
— Just Wondering
Hi Just Wondering…
Oh, no! Please don’t move your cat’s litter box to the basement. He’ll hate that!
Can cats see in the dark? That depends on how dark it is. While we see better than you do in dim light, we can’t see in total darkness.
If you move your cat’s litter box to the basement, he’ll probably be able to find it. But it could be so difficult, he might decide it’s just not worth the effort.
How Cats See In The Dark
Did you know this? Humans see better in bright light during the day than cats do. But while it’s not true that cats can see in total darkness, our night vision is so much better than yours. We need just one-sixth the amount of light you do to be able to see what we’re doing.
So how do cats see in the dark? The shape of our eyes lets in more light than yours do. And our eyes have a lot of rods, the cells that help us see in low light. The rods also help us sense motion. In bright light, they just switch off. That why you see better than we do during the day.
Something else that helps cats see in the dark is our tapetum lucidum (Our what??? My human typist is writing this, and I have no idea what she’s talking about!), a “mirror” layer behind the retina. If light coming into our eyes misses the rods, it gets a second chance when it bounces off that mirror layer.
It’s the tapetum lucidum that makes our eyes glow in the dark!
Cats see in the dark for one more reason, too. While you can’t see ultraviolet or black light, we can. That helps a lot when we’re hunting before the sun comes up.
Cats “See” With More Than Their Eyes
But we have some other things going for us when it’s dark, too. Our whiskers are like little antennae that help us feel our way. And our sense of smell tells us where we are.
Your cat’s whiskers and sense of smell would help him find his litter box in the basement if it’s totally dark. But that sounds like so much work.
Another Myth: Cats Are Colorblind
Have you heard that cats are colorblind? That’s not true!
Your eyes have more cones than ours do, and cones respond to color. You live in a multicolored world, while the colors we see in our world are in the blue-violet and greenish-yellow ranges. So you know all those bright red toys people buy us? That red or bright green fades into gray for us. Personally, I like yellow and violet toys and beds better than blue.
We can also see white, although it sort of glows for us. And it can feel aggressive. So if you want to hold your cat, don’t wear a white shirt. And ask the vet to take that white jacket off!
Calming colors for us are pastel purple, green and blue.
Oh, and one more thing you should know: We’re nearsighted. Objects more than 20 feet away look blurry to us. But things that are too close look blurry, too. So if you dangle the feathers on a wand or fishing pole toy right in front of your cat’s face, he won’t see them. Try to hold the toy a couple of inches away.
I hope this answers your question, Just Wondering. And if you’d like to read more about cat eyes, check out these posts.