Can Cats See In The Dark Really?

can cats see in the dark?

Can cats see in the dark without any light at all?

Cats are known for being quite friendly towards us humans, and this has fortunately led to us understanding them much better.

Not just how they live and express themselves, but also how their vision works as well.

As a cat owner, it makes sense that you would have several questions about your cat’s behaviors, diet, and how it’s eyes work too.

While some of these questions remain not very clear, other ones are relatively easy to answer and remain facts, having been scientifically studied and thankfully explained.

Most of us have for instance wondered whether our beloved cats can really see in the dark, but practically everybody knows about the nocturnal habits of these little animals…

It is an old belief that felines are able to see in the dark clearly and that their night vision is just as good as their daytime vision, but can this really be true?

Can cats see in the dark? Let’s find out…

Can Cats See In The Dark?

Yes, it is actually true that cats can see during night and they have much better vision compared to us humans. Cats eyes can recognize more details about individual objects in darkness than our eyes can.

Considering how much stronger their eyesight is, this implies that when you or me can’t see anything from outside when looking through a window, a cat could easily see an objects fine details and texture even among the shape of the object.

Us humans would in comparison have to have much more light and be closer to the same thing to properly see it like a cat would, their eyes are simply stronger than ours.

However, it is important to mention that even though a cat’s sight in darkness is better than of humans, their vision isn’t quite clear like it would in daylight.

It is just that their eyes can pick finer details and shapes more easily in the dark than we can, or about 20 times better.

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How Can Cats See Things In Darkness?

Vision continues to remain one of the most interesting natural phenomenons even in modern times, it still has a certain mystery to it.

A very good example of this is the mantis shrimp, whose eyes have twelve color receptors while we humans only have three.

A higher number of receptors enables them to see an intense and beautiful rainbow of colors that so far, we can not even begin to imagine.

Moreover, an eagle’s eyesight power is around 4 – 5 times higher than that of regular people. This means that they can see an object clearly even when they are very far away from it in the sky flying around.

It has been discovered that cats have it relatively more easy moving around in the dark than we do. You won’t find cats knocking into every single little thing late at night like you are used to doing.

There are several speculations to why this is, and why felines eyes work so much better at night than ours do.

Note that most of these reasons are due to the adaptation of a cat’s eyes, instead of misconceptions and myths about it’s eyesight.

Some have claimed over the years that these agile animals have special spiritual powers that enable them to see better at night, but that is simply wrong and inaccurate.

There are very scientific reasons behind why cats see so well in the dark such as:

A Cats Pupil Shape Is Unique

Most of the kingdom mammalian species where humans belong to tend to have a circular pupil, and all humans have this circular pupil shape.

Cats on the other hand have elliptical eye pupils which makes them different from us in this matter.

Their pupil is a slit-like shape and this very fact plays a critical role in enabling cats to see clearly in the dark.

The reason why an elliptical pupil is so much better for this purpose than circular pupils are, is that it can allow more light into the cat’s eyes. Circular pupils do not have this same ability to this degree.

Besides, in utter darkness a felines pupils can dilate significantly and this allows much more light into the eye for better and stronger vision.

For instance, a cat’s pupil can expand to an impressive 135 folds without light present, while a human can only go up to 15 folds.

This extreme pupil dilation is contributed much to the vertical pupils in the cat’s eye, which lets them see so clearly at night in the dark.

In the daylight, this very same vertical pupil is partially blinded to a degree to protect the eyes against too much light.

This is why a cat’s eyes look different during the daytime hours.

Also read: Scottish Wildcat Size Vs Domestic Cat: How To Tell Them Apart

Higher Ratio of Rod-To-Cone, and Highly Sensitive Photo receptors

All eyes in animals have a retina where the images form in the eye.

However, every animal species such as cats, humans, dogs or even cows have different and varying light sensitivity in these retinas.

Our eyes work differently as every animal has different needs.

Remember that there are 2 distinct types of photo receptors in eyes, the rods and cones.

Each of these receptors plays an exceptional role in forming images in our eyes.

The rods play a role in image formation during dark nights and also in the peripheral vision.

The Cones meanwhile are responsible for forming the images in the daytime since they are reliant on light to process the different colors and differentiate between them.

So while the average human retina has approximately 120 million rods on their retina, a cat would have 7 – 8 times this amount of rods.

With this higher number of rod cells in their eyes, cats naturally have a much better eyesight in the dark, and dim light than humans do in particular. (1.)

Felines also have a relatively higher number of these rods compared to the stumpy number of cones in their eyes, the exact opposite to us humans as well.

It all makes sense now.

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Can cats see in the dark? Yes they can.

Cats Have A Bigger Cornea

In case you were not sure, the cornea is the first layer of your eye and the outermost layer present there.

The curved edges of a cornea plays a significant role in vision as it bends the light, for better focusing on objects and things.

A cat’s cornea is much larger than it is in humans, and this is a another huge reason why they have such a great night vision.

The larger surface area of the cornea in a cat actually means that they have relatively bigger eyeballs than we do, if they were our size that is.

The bigger a cornea’s area is, the easier it is for light to enter into the eyes and this means vision becomes enhanced at night dramatically.

Their Eyes Have A Special Tissue

One interesting fact about cats is that the feline species has a certain tissue called “Tapetum Lucidum” in their eyes behind their retina.

This particular layer is absent in our eyes in comparison.

This Tapetum Layer is a very big advantage to cats, since it’s shiny and green reflective surface usually reflects much light into the retina itself.

If you have ever aimed some light at a kitty during a dark night, you will most likely have noticed this reflective quality.

Also, if you try to photograph a kitten at night you may see this in action as well.

The main purpose of this special layer is to carry out the “retro reflector” function, which is basically backward light refraction. (2.)

This increases a cat’s ability to see better through the darkness and in low light environments.

Many other animals have this ability and this type of tissue in their eyes as well, but cats are unique in the way that they have so many layers like this and are the true masters of night vision.

Cats Have A “UV Light Vision Ability”

Felines really do have much better vision when you compare them to our own.

Cat’s don’t only navigate the dark better than we do, but they also have the power to see and process UV light uniquely.

This ability in their vision enables them to see things which, in the real sense are invisible to us regular humans.

They can see things we simply can’t notice, such as delicate patterns in flowers or a trail of urine some animal left behind on the ground.

It is almost like a super power which scientists have identified, while studying the transparent parts in a cats eye.

These transparent parts are able to transmit UV wavelengths, thus allowing even more light into the eye’s retina.


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Eyes Adapted For Near Sighted Vision

Different to a humans eyes that can see things from far away clearly, a felines eyes are fantastic for seeing objects up close.

This nearsightedness is a result of their big corneas, which instead of focusing on far away objects, focus their field of view to 200 degrees compared to a humans 180 degrees.

It is a bit similar to having a powerful near- panoramic camera around you at all times.

Even More Reasons

There are even more reasons why cats see so well in the dark, that are not directly related to their eyes.

Cats have very sensitive whiskers and ears, which are very flexible too.

While without a doubt, their well adapted eyes are a huge contributor to their ability to navigate the night so perfectly there are also other ways they manage this.

They have very sensitive whisker that help them in dim light as they act as touch receptors, helping the animal to feel any obstacles ahead.

Their sharp hearing ability lets them easily recognize sounds and movements several meters away from them which is useful.

Cats that are moving around a dark and bushy environment could easily recognize the higher frequency sounds a small animal would make, and this is all part of being a skillful hunter.

So yes, it is absolutely true that cats can see in the dark and they have much better eyesight than we are used to having.

Their eyes have quite a few adaptions that allow them to achieve such a excellent night vision.

As well as having great eyes, cats have their sensitive whiskers and ears, which enable them to navigate through dark environments comfortably.

They may not be the best night hunters in the entire animal kingdom, but they sure beat you and me.

Now that we have answered the question of “can cats see in the dark?, and all about how well cats see at night, you may also enjoy reading our article about cat body language.


Author: Cathour

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