Cat Vision: Can Cats See Color? · The Wildest

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Can Cats See Color?

Short answer: Yes — but not the way we do.

by Savannah Admire
July 27, 2023
Brown and White Cat With Rainbow Across Her Eyes.
THAIS RAMOS VARELA / Stocksy

Have you ever wondered what your cat sees when they look at you (other than a full-time chef and litter box cleaner, of course)? Do cats see color? Is a cat’s world in full vibrant color just like ours, or is their view just shades of black and gray, like The Wizard of Oz before Dorothy steps into a magical land? 

While cats can certainly see color, the full vibrant spectrum of a rainbow is a bit more muted in their eyes. Similar to dogs, cats’ vision is much more limited than human vision, but they have stronger senses in other areas, such as seeing in low light. But just how many colors can cats see compared to their human parents?

What colors can cats see?

Cats don’t see as many colors as humans do, but what colors can cats see best? Your beloved feline can likely make out varying shades of blue, green, and yellow, but red, orange, and brown are imperceptible to their eyes. And even the colors that cats do see don’t appear in the same richness of hues and saturation that human eyes perceive, making the cat color spectrum much more muted than the human one.

So, how do cats see color? Humans and cats both have two types of color receptors in their eyes: rods and cones. Rods handle how much you can see in the dark and your peripheral vision, while cones determine your vision during the day and your color perception. Humans have more cones than cats, which means that they can usually see the whole spectrum of light in all its vibrant hues. Cats have more rods, allowing them to pick up movement more easily and see in lower light. 

Humans also have three photopigment receptors in their eyes, while cats only have two, limiting the color spectrum they see. However, cats easily win out over humans in their ability to notice small, fast movements and see clearly in dim lighting, both of which contribute to their excellent hunting skills. 

Why can’t cats see red?

The color-detecting cones in a cat’s eyes are most sensitive to blue-violet and yellow-green wavelengths of light. Unlike humans, cats don’t have cones sensitive to red light wavelengths, which prevents them from seeing the color red. So, if your cat enjoys chasing a laser pointer around the house, they don’t actually see the color of the light. Instead, they’re just responding to the rapid movement. 

Can cats distinguish between different shades of blue and green? 

Just like dogs, cats’ color vision is primarily in shades of yellow, blue, and gray, although cats tend to perceive more blue and greenish-yellow hues, while dogs’ vision focuses more on blue and yellow. 

But just how many colors can a cat see and what colors do cats see in? While scientists are still uncertain just how many shades of green cats can perceive, they most likely have a vision spectrum similar to that of a color-blind human. This means that cats probably see in muted shades of blue, yellow, green, and gray and are unable to perceive red or pink, which may look more like green to their eyes. And even a bright purple may seem like just another shade of blue to your cat. 

Does a cat’s color vision affect their behavior?

Cats tend to rely more on their ability to detect movement, as well as seeing in dim lighting, than their color vision. While your cat may not be aware of the bright colors that you can see each day, they can still sneak up on you in the dark (and give you a fright) and practice their hunting skills by chasing moving toys. Most likely, your cat doesn’t know what they’re missing and gets through their days just fine with the vision they do have, muted colors and all.  

How does this affect cats?

Cats’ vision is not as good as humans’ vision in terms of color perception, so cats don’t perceive the rich colors that we do. However, cats have other senses that help them to compensate for this lack, such as their hearing and their sense of smell. 

As a cat parent, you may be tempted to choose toys with bright colors because they appeal to your vision spectrum, but your cat likely won’t be excited by a bright red mouse. Instead, look for toys that move to engage your cat’s hunting instincts, and if you want to choose colorful toys they can enjoy, stick with shades of yellow and blue. 

Can cats see in the dark? 

It’s a common belief that cats can see in the dark, which may contribute to their often spooky reputation. While cats can’t see in complete darkness, they are able to see six times better than humans in low light because they have a much larger number of rod cells in their eyes. 

Cats also have a thin, reflective layer along the back of their eye, known as a tapetum, which magnifies light in darker spaces, reflecting that light like a mirror. This layer is the reason why cats’ eyes — and the eyes of dogs and many other animals — appear to glow in the dark. This reflective layer also helps cats to see more easily in dim light. 

Your cat may not be able to enjoy the vibrant colors that you do, but they have a wider field of vision than humans and perceive movement much more easily, even in dim light. So, next time you’re choosing a new toy for your cat, consider their more limited color vision and choose a toy in one of the colors they see. Or, better yet, opt for interactive toys that stimulate your cat’s natural predator instincts and let them feel like the stealthy hunters they are. And even if your cat can’t enjoy all the colors of the rainbow, they can still use their eyes to show you just how much they trust you — and you can return the favor.

FAQ (People Also Ask)

What colors can cats see?

Cats primarily see muted shades of blue-violet and yellow-green but are unable to perceive red, orange, and brown. 

Can cats see in black and white?

Cats are not fully colorblind, so their world isn’t black and white but is instead tinged with yellow, blue, and gray. 

Do cats see the same colors as dogs?

Cats and dogs both see in the same limited color palettes and struggle to perceive red, but cats tend to see more shades of green and yellow than dogs. 

Can cats distinguish between different shades of blue and green?

Cats can distinguish between some shades of blue, but scientists still debate whether they can pick out different shades of green. 

Does a cat’s color vision affect their behavior?

Your cat may respond better to objects within their range of color vision, but cats overall rely more on their perception of movement. 

Can cats see in the dark?

While cats don’t have night-vision, they can see in dim light much better than humans. 

Can I use specific colors to attract my cat’s attention?

Cats will likely be more interested in blue and yellow toys than red ones, but the best way to get your cat’s attention is to stand right in front of them where their vision is best. 

References

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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