HEALTH & CARE

How Do Cats See: The World through Your Cat’s Eyes

Cat looking up
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

Cats have a unique vision which aids their activities and how they relate to things and people. It is a fact that cats see in a different way than humans. Have you ever thought about it? How do cats see? Are cats color blind? You will agree that knowing how your furry companion sees you and the world is important.

Your knowledge of how your cat sees would help you determine the sights and experiences you expose her to. For example, if you know which colors she can see and which she can’t, you’ll be able to decorate her surroundings better or pick out furniture that comes in a color she can see to make her world more colorful. We will take you through all aspects of the way they see. That way you can understand why they act the way they do towards things and situation. We already know what a bird’s eye view is; now it is time to discover a cat’s eye view.

In this article, we will explain the basics of a cat’s eyes, identify some parts of them, and the functions they perform. We follow that up by highlighting some unique characteristics of a cat’s eyes. We will also cover some threats to your cat’s eyesight, the preventive measures, and a do-it-yourself eye test you can do for your cat at home.

The Science and Characteristics of a Cat’s Eye

orange cat's eyes

A cat’s eye is similar to that of a human’s. They share most features like the lens, the retina, and others. However, there are some distinct features that a cat has and humans don’t.

  • For one, the lens of their eyes changes shape to focus light on the retina, just as you will adjust a camera lens. The lens is controlled by tiny muscles called the ciliary muscles. In cats, the lens appears narrower.
  • The retina contains photoreceptors that help them capture light. There are two types of photoreceptors: cones and rods. Cone cells give cats great binocular vision—making them capable of gauging distances and speed well. Rod cells help cats see in dim light. A cat’s eye has more rod cells than a human’s.
  • Cats also have something called a tapetum lucidum—which is a reflective layer of tissue. This layer of tissue is what makes their eyes glow in the dark. It allows light to bounce and hit the back of the eyes through the retina—allowing the rods to absorb them a second time.
  • Cats also have an inner eyelid apart from the two exterior ones. Even when the cat is sleeping, the inner eyelid can be visible.

So what do those differences mean exactly? It means there are some unique characteristics that a cat’s eye exhibits and they include the following:

Characteristic #1: Night Vision

cats' night vision

You may have wondered: how do cats see in the dark? Cats become more active at twilight; this trait is called “crepuscular.” Their eyes are therefore created in a way that helps them see well during their active period. They have six to eight times more rod cells than a human, and as such, it enables them to have great night vision.

The reflective tissue called the tapetum lucidum also helps gather more light and shift the wavelengths of light. The tapectum gives a cat’s eye the ability to detect light up to seven times lower than what a human can detect. This makes objects and prey more prominent against the black backdrop of nighttime. Their cone rods also help them sense movements in the dark much better. This function helps all feline family members become great night hunters.

In some cats, the reflective tissue gives off a green glow, while in others, it is a yellow or golden glint. The zinc constituent in the reflective tissue is what is responsible for the different color variations.

Characteristic #2: Wider View

The position of a cat’s eyes also affects their viewpoint. They have a wider field of vision that is estimated to be about 200 degrees greater than a human’s 180 degrees. This allows the cat to capture more of their peripheral surroundings.

Characteristic #3: Color Vision

rainbow cat lying

How do cats see the world? Is it black and white to them? Contrary to what most people believe, cats are not color blind. A 2014 study found that a cat’s lenses transmit a significant amount of ultraviolet light within the range of UVA 315-400nm. They see colors within the blue and violet color spectrum better than they do the reds.

Scientist used to believe that cats are dichromat—which means that they are only capable of seeing two colors. Now, scientists believe they can see more. In fact, the ultraviolet vision ability allows them to see colors that may appear black to humans in its full coloration. The world possesses many objects with an ultraviolet coloration which we, as humans, are not able to see. The world a cat sees is vivid in the ultraviolet spectrum.

Characteristic #4: Mood Reflections

A cat’s eyes tend to dilate according to their emotions and the situations. Their elliptical pupils can go from slits to saucer-like. Their pupils dilate when they are angry or ready to attack or play. The pupils allow more light into the retina when they dilate. Then the iris contracts as the brain gives instruction in the face of bright light.

Characteristic #5: Unblinking Eyes

cat's unblinking eyes

Humans need to blink often to keep the eyes moisturized and avoid dryness. Cats, on the other hand, can stare for as long as they want. Their eyes are designed that way to give them an advantage in hunting. Cats only blink when they want to communicate their feelings and affection. A cat’s blink can mean “I love you.” Take a look at what else cats do to convey their love for you in this article.

Characteristic #6: Nearsightedness

Human eyes have a greater resolution and can see objects and images clearly at 100 to 200 feet away. If you ever wonder: how far can cats see? They need to be 20 feet away from that same object to see it clearly. Anything farther will appear blurred. Cats lack the muscles that allow their lens to change and focus on things clearly. For the same reason, slow-moving objects are visible to humans, but cats may view the same object as stationary.

Humans in a Cat’s Eyes

cat looking at human

How do cats see humans? This is a paramount question any cat owner would have thought of. A research was carried out to see if cats can recognize their human owner’s face. It found that cats do not really recognize the faces of their owners, but they use scent, touch, and the sound of your voice to identify you. The same research shows that they do not mistake their owner’s voice. So talk more to your cat while you tend to her.

Another research tried to determine what kind of being cats see us as. It found that cats see us as clumsy. There are some who think cats see us as giant clumsy cats and they treat us as such. The way they greet each other is the way they greet humans. For example, cats rub against their humans, lift their tail in greeting, and purr.

Some cats see humans as their mother. This shows in the way they knead you with their paws. This action is reminiscent of the way a kitten kneads her mother while nursing. If your cat is always attempting to groom you, then she probably sees you as a kitten. This perception of humans can also depend on the age of your cat.

Detecting Unhealthy Eyes

orange cat's red eyes

A cat’s eyes are very important to them, and therefore should be cared for properly. There are signs that indicate potential developing problems in your cat’s eyes. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should take your cat to the vet for a checkup immediately.

  • Red Eyes: Healthy eyes are characterized by a white cornea and a green/blue or gold pupil. Red is a sign of danger. When your cat’s eyes are red, you should seek medical help. Red eyes are commonly accompanied by discharge.
  • Crusty Discharge: Discharge from the eyes are normal when they occur once in a while, especially when your cat has just woken up from a long sleep. When you notice a lot of discharge around the edges and corners of your cat’s eyes often, it is usually a sign that something is wrong with her eyes.
  • Squinting: Cats do squint on occasions. However, if you notice a permanent squint, your cat may be experiencing pain, and the eyes should be examined immediately

There is a number of reasons why your cat is exhibiting the above symptoms. Eye problems in cats can be caused by health issues such as:

  • High blood pressure that is associated with hyperthyroidism or renal diseases can cause retinal detachment in your cat’s eyes.
  • Infections like that of FIP, FeLV, or FIV can cause inflammation in the middle part of the eye—a condition that is more commonly known as uveitis.
  • Cataracts can lead to vision loss over time if not treated. It starts by clouding your cat’s vision. Unregulated diabetes can cause cataracts.
  • Diabetes can cause the blood vessels in the eyes to narrow and reduce the blood supplied to your cat’s eyes, which may eventually lead to blindness.
  • Excessive fluid pressure in the eyeball, which is referred to as glaucoma, can lead to blindness if not arrested at the onset.
  • Traumatic injuries in the eye or the eye area.
  • Feline herpes, chlamydia, and mycoplasma can cause conjunctivitis and cornea damage.
  • Scabies, ringworm, and other immune system-related skin diseases can cause eyelid inflammation.

You can carry a simple test at home if you want to be sure of your cat’s sight, perhaps before you take her to the vet. You can test your feline friend’s eyes with some simple tools:

  • A penlight
  • Feather or cotton
  • Any large object

Here’s how you make use of the aforementioned tools:

  • Move your hands slowly towards your cat’s eyes to see if she reacts to it. She is expected to blink or turn away.
  • Secondly, shine the small penlight into her eyes and see if she squint, blinks, or turns away. Pupils are supposed to constrict in bright lights.
  • Thirdly, drop your feather or piece of cotton in front of her to see if her eyes follow it as it drops to the ground.
  • Finally, place the large object in places your cat typically walks through and see if she bumps into it or avoids it.

If your cat does not respond appropriately to this test, do not hesitate to sign her up for a comprehensive eye checkup.

Protecting Your Cat’s Eyesight

taking care of cat's eyes

Good eyesight is a gift, and as such, it should be protected. Prevention, as they say, is better than cure. Here are some preventive measures that can protect your cat eyes and ultimately their sight.

Tip #1: Visit the Veterinarian Regularly

vet examining cat's eyes

They are trained to spot discomfort and anything that may be out of the ordinary in your cat’s physiology. Routine physical examinations would expose any underlying medical condition that may cause eye problems to your cat. Take a look at this article to figure out how often you should take your cat to the vet. Be quick to notify the vet of any symptoms you notice.

Tip #2: Stick to the Vet’s Instructions

As we have enumerated earlier in this article, many diseases can lead to eye problems and eventual vision loss. To prevent this from happening, follow your vet’s medical instructions strictly. Complete all doses and help prevent further damages. If it’s difficult for you to give your cat her meds because she won’t take the pill, check this article out.

Tip #3: Supervise Your Cat’s Interaction with Other Cats

cats fighting and scratching

Injuries from scratches, fights, and bites are common causes of eye problems. Your role in minimizing the chances of injuries is to:

  • Monitor your cat’s encounter with her new friends
  • Do a proper introduction if you are bringing home a new pet
  • Be quick to separate fights

If you notice that your cat has already suffered injuries, clean her wounds quickly by following the instructions in this article.

Tip #4: Keep Your Cat on a Healthy Diet

healthy diet for a cat

Nutrition plays a key role in the prevention of diseases and the healing of damaged tissues in the eyes. The right nutrient-rich foods can serve to guard your cat’s eyes against infections and diseases.

Give your cat beta-carotene and vitamin A rich foods. When necessary and if recommended by the vet, feed your cat specially formulated food that can maintain their lifestyle or prevent any other health challenges. Avoid any food that your cat may be allergic to, since allergies may irritate the eyes.

Tip #5: Grooming Essentials

trimming cat's nails

Daily or weekly grooming should not be overlooked. Using a clean, damp cloth to clean the edges of your cat’s eyes to remove the discharge that has accumulated there overnight is important. If it is not removed, bacteria can breed on it and find its way into your cat’s eyes to cause havoc.

Cats also have eyelashes that should be trimmed regularly. Eye hair can accumulate bacteria and debris that can cause eye infections. Simply use a pair of safety scissors and trim the hair when it is longer than an inch. You can ask the veterinarian to do it if you are squeamish about things like that.

Trim your cat’s nails regularly. An accident may occur when your cat is grooming herself. Scratches can breed bacteria and infection.

Wrap Up

green eyes of tabby cat

In conclusion, now that you know how your cat sees the world, you, and why there is a weird, green glow in her eyes in dim light, you have no reason to be spooked or worried that her unblinking stare is because she hates you. You can also take care of your feline friend better. Ensure you preserve your cat’s eyesight well so that you can both see all the beauty the world has to offer.

Are your cat’s eyes healthy? Or have you noticed something wrong with them? Have you ever been forced to deal with feline eye situations before? What did you do to mitigate the problem? Please share your stories with us in the comments section below!

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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