Can Cats See in the Dark? Facts About Cat “Night Vision” and Eyesight · The Wildest

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Can Cats See in the Dark? Facts About Cat “Night Vision” and Eyesight

Those glowing orbs certainly seem to be looking at something.

by Savannah Admire
May 19, 2024
Woman holding her cat in a dark room.
Inna Skaldutska / iStock

If you’re a cat parent, you’ve likely heard your feline pal get the zoomies in the middle of the night, bouncing around your home in the dark. How can they see where they’re going? Can cats see better in the dark? 

Cats may not have true night vision, like nocturnal animals, but they can see better in dim light than humans or even dogs — and they have the nighttime activity to prove it. Learn all about night vision in cats and just how much your cat can see in the dark when they’re running from room to room well after midnight. 

Cat vision and eye structure

A cat’s eye structure isn’t that different from a human’s and features a curved cornea and large lens, as well as a pupil and iris. However, cats have some differences in their eyes that allow them to see more clearly in low light. 

More rods than cones 

Cats have more rods than cones. Rods detect movement and are sensitive to light, playing a major role in night vision, peripheral vision, and motion sensing. Humans, on the other hand, have more cones, which detect daylight and colors, allowing us to see a wide range of colors that cats can’t perceive. 

Tapetum lucidum reflection

Cat eyes have a reflective layer of tissue known as a tapetum lucidum. This tissue reflects light back to the rods in a cat’s eye, enabling the eye to absorb more light — more than 50 percent of available light. The tapetum lucidum is also why a cat’s eyes seem to glow in the dark when light hits them. 

Their pupils adjust quicker than humans’

A cat’s pupils can expand wider than a human’s, which also lets more light into the eye. In dim or low light, a cat’s pupils can dilate to full circles to let in as much light as possible. When their pupils are smaller, a cat can focus on a specific object. 

How good is a cat’s night vision?

Just how well can cats see in the dark? Contrary to popular belief, cats are not nocturnal, so they can’t see in complete darkness. Felines are actually crepuscular, which sounds creepy, but just means that they’re most active during twilight hours like dusk and dawn — and makes seeing in dim light essential. 

Some color and details visible

Even in daylight, cats don’t see as many colors as humans do. They also struggle to perceive details because they don’t have strong distance or near vision.

Cat night vision vs. dog night vision

Both cats and dogs have much better night vision than humans, but can dogs see in the dark like cats? Sorry, dog lovers, cats win this round. While dogs have more rods in their eyes than humans, cats have even more rods than dogs, allowing them to see more clearly in low light — as much as six to eight times better than humans. 

Low light vs. pitch black

Do cats have night vision? Just like humans, cats can’t see clearly in full darkness, so they don’t have true night vision. However, cats require far less light than we do to see, so even when all the lights are off in your home, your cat can still see just fine. 

Cat-night-vision benefits

A cat’s ability to see in low light allows them to move easily through dark rooms (and zoom around your house at 3 a.m.). While your cat may not be hunting for survival, their sharp vision has evolved over time to help them pinpoint prey even at night.

Because they have more rods in their eyes, cats can also more easily detect movement, which is ideal for hunting. Cats can see objects moving at very fast speeds, allowing them to pounce easily on quick-moving prey (or interactive toys).

Cat night vision vs. human night vision

So how does your cat’s night vision compare to your own? If you’ve ever run into the sofa or dresser in the dark, you know that human night vision isn’t exactly sharp. Night vision in cats, however, is particularly strong—even if they can’t see in complete darkness. 

Cats can see much better than humans in low light, but they have far more limited color vision and struggle to see objects close up or far away in detail. Cats’ vision can best be described as mid-sighted — they need to be more than 20 feet away to see an object clearly. Humans, on the other hand, tend to see most clearly when an object is between 100 and 200 feet away. 

Humans struggle to see in the dark simply because our eyes aren’t designed for seeing clearly in limited light. Nocturnal animals with true night vision tend to have larger eyes and wider pupils, which let in more light. They also have more rods in their eyes, which help them to see more clearly at night. 

FAQs (People also ask):

Can senior cats see in the dark?

There are common health issues among senior cats that can impact their vision, such as eye infections, retinal degeneration, or even blindness. Your cat’s night vision may become weaker as they age. Talk to your veterinarian if you think your senior cat is having trouble seeing in the dark — or seeing in general. 

Can cats see color in the dark? 

Cats don’t see the full range of colors that we do because they have fewer cones in their eyes, which detect color. They mostly see blues and yellows, similar to dogs. 

Why does my cat stare at me at night? 

Every cat owner has woken up to find their cat staring straight at them, but why? No one knows for sure, but chances are your cat wants your attention for some reason, whether for food, pets, or simply out of boredom. Or maybe they’re slow blinking at you to express their love and trust. 


Savannah Admire

Savannah Admire is a writer, editor, and pet parent to two dogs and a cat. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, playing Animal Crossing, or being an obnoxious nerd about her favorite movies and TV shows. She lives in Maryland, where she constantly debates whether or not to get a third dog.

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