Can Cats See Colors, or Are They Color Blind?

Cats see varying shades of green, blue, and yellow - but in a more muted way than we do.
| Updated: March 5, 2024
Can cats see colors?

What do you think your cat sees when they’re staring out the window? Do you think it’s the same vibrant world full of bright greens, blues, and reds that you see?

As natural, and exceptionally skilled, hunters, I always assumed cats had impeccable vision; like the grounded version of a falcon. Lo and behold, I was wrong. While cats are certainly incredible hunters, there is no disputing that, in many ways, they actually see worse than we do.

Are Cats Color Blind?

The retina of the eye in humans and cats contains cones and rods, two types of photoreceptor cells that allow your pet to see the world. The cones are responsible for seeing colors and making out shapes or details from a distance. Conversely, Rods are responsible for peripheral vision (how far to the side you can see) and vision in low light.

So, what does this mean for cats?

Cats have three types of cones, also called cone populations, that allow them to see colors at wavelengths 450nm (blue), 500nm (greenish-blue), and 550nm (yellow)1. In comparison, humans also have three cone populations. So does this mean cats see the same colors as us? Not exactly. The human eye may have three cone populations, but we have 10x the number of cones as cats. This means what a cat sees is muted, dull versions of the colors that we see. They also won’t be able to differentiate between shades of colors like we can.

So, are cats color-blind? Not at all! Cats definitely see in color; they just don’t get to appreciate the same vividly colorful world that we do.

What Colors Do Cats See Best?

  1. Blue-violet: At the lower end of the spectrum, cats can see bluish-violet or indigo colors, though they won’t be able to perceive true violet colors.
  2. Blue: Cats can see blue better than most other colors.
  3. Green: Green is another color that cats can see fairly well, but it’s approaching the higher end of their perceivable spectrum.
  4. Yellow: Cats are able to recognize various shades of yellow. However, red, brown, and orange are imperceptible to them.
  5. Muted Spectrum: The colors cats see lack the richness and saturation that human eyes perceive. Their color spectrum is more muted and dull.

How Far Can Cats See?

We talked about how the cones in a cat’s eye play a direct role in perceiving colors, but they also affect visual acuity (the ability to distinguish shapes and details at a distance).

With fewer cones, cats can’t see as far as humans or in as great a detail. Beyond about 20 feet, a cat’s vision becomes blurry, but this isn’t a hindrance to them like we might think. A cat’s vision is optimized for their natural behaviors, and being ambush predators, they don’t need to see at the same distance a hawk does.

Do Cats Have Night Vision?

Cats excel in low-light situations, so yes, they have exceptional night vision. What they see, however, doesn’t resemble what night vision goggles look like in military movies.

We mentioned that cats have fewer cones in their retina than humans, but they have significantly more rods, roughly six times as many. This effectively means that cats can see six times better in low light than humans can.

A cat’s eye also possesses a specialized structure called the tapetum lucidum, a type of reflector behind the retina. As light passes through the eye, it gets reflected back through the retina, allowing the rods a second chance at processing the information. If you’ve ever looked at your cat at night and noticed their eyes are shiny or appear to be glowing; what your seeing is the tapetum lucidum reflecting light.

Cat with shining eyes reflecting because of the tapetum lucidum

As if this wasn’t enough, you may have noticed your cat’s pupils dilate and can get huge, almost taking up the whole eye at times. Dilating their pupils allows them to absorb or maximize the light that passes through their eyes, increasing their excellent night vision even further.

What Does a Cat’s Vision Look Like?

  1. Color Perception: As we mentioned earlier, cats are not colorblind. However, their color vision differs significantly from ours. Imagine viewing the world through a soft, pastel filter. Cats primarily see shades of blue and green, with yellow being another discernible color. Reds, oranges, and browns appear as muted grays or indistinct shades. So, while they don’t experience the same vibrant spectrum we do, their visual world has a subtle beauty of its own.
  2. Visual Acuity: Cats have lower visual acuity than humans. Their eyes lack the intricate cone cells responsible for sharp focus, so their close-up vision isn’t as detailed. But don’t underestimate them! Cats compensate with other remarkable adaptations.
  3. Peripheral Vision: Cats boast an impressive field of view. Their wide-set eyes allow them to see nearly 200 degrees horizontally, compared to our 180 degrees. This peripheral vision is crucial for detecting movement—a survival advantage in the wild—or figuring out where that cheeky laser pointer darted off to.
  4. Motion Sensitivity: Cats excel at detecting motion. Their retinas contain specialized cells called ganglion cells2, which respond to movement. This sensitivity helps them spot prey, even in low light.

Do Cats and Dogs See the Same?

Cats can see slightly more colors than dogs can because dogs only have two types of cone populations compared to the three that cats have. Cats also have better night vision than dogs, even though both species have the mirror-like structure (tapetum lucidum) we talked about. Either way, they both see better at night than you or I.

While dogs may not see as well at night or see as many colors, they do have better visual acuity than a cat. Dogs can see at greater distances than a cat and make out details better – allowing them to recognize faces and read human expressions.

Why Cats’ Eyesight Is Perfectly Suited for Hunting

orange cat stalking prey outside
  1. Predator’s Advantage: A cat’s visual adaptations align well with their role as ambush predators. Their ability to detect motion, especially in low light, ensures successful hunts. Whether it’s a mouse scurrying across the floor or a bird fluttering in the dusk, cats are finely tuned to seize the moment.
  2. Nocturnal Prowess: Cats’ crepuscular behavior – most active during dawn and dusk – capitalizes on their night vision. Their slit-like pupils adjust swiftly to changing light conditions, allowing them to transition seamlessly from darkness to daylight.
  3. The Art of Stalking: Cats’ elongated pupils constrict to narrow slits when they focus on prey. This enhances depth perception and allows them to judge distances more accurately. Combine this with their peripheral vision, and you have a masterful stalker.

Article Sources

BuzzPetz uses high-quality sources like medical journals, peer-reviewed studies, and statements from veterinarians to support the facts in our articles.
Boycott BB, Wässle H. The morphological types of ganglion cells of the domestic cat’s retina. J Physiol. 1974 Jul;240(2):397-419. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1974.sp010616. PMID: 4422168; PMCID: PMC1331022.
Chase Roseberry Author Image
Chase Roseberry

Chase’s life has been a remarkable journey into the world of animals. From his time spent working with an equine Veterinarian, raising exotic snakes, and live coral aquaculture, his diverse background fuels his passion for the animal kingdom.

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