You’ve stopped by the pet shelter and are interviewing the cats for adoption. You’re looking to adopt an adult cat – you feel your life is just too hectic to take on a pair of kittens. There is an orange male cat who seems friendly and rubs your outstretched hand in greeting. He is simply charming!

You find a shelter volunteer for more information. She asks you how you feel about caring for a blind cat. You do a double-take – the cat moves confidently around his enclosure, then turns and approaches you.  Nothing about him makes you think he can’t see.

Blindness in cats can arise from a number of factors:

  • genetic condition present at birth
  • trauma to the eyes
  • cataracts due to aging or diabetes
  • detachment of the retina, resulting from high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, or hyperthyroidism
  • infectious organisms, such as FeLV, FIV, can cause inflammation in the eye and lead to blindness.
  • untreated eye infections resulting from upper respiratory infections can also cause blindness

“keep an eye” on your cat’s eyes – see your vet if:

  • your cat is squinting
  • her third eyelids are swollen
  • her conjunctiva are red and swollen
  • there is discharge from her eyes – clear to greenish-yellow
  • her pupils are not the same size
  • she starts rubbing her eyes

Caring for a blind cat

Caring for a blind cat or cat who is gradually becoming blind is similar to  caring for a “sighted” cat. Blind cats and “sighted” cats have the same environmental and emotional needs.

Blind cats adapt quickly to their surroundings. How do they do it? They rely on their other senses – smell, touch, and hearing – to get around.

The blind cat’s superpowers

superpower #1 – smell

Cats live in a landscape of odors. Cats have two ways of detecting odors in their environment:

  • the cells lining the nose and nasal cavity
  • the vomeronasal organ or VNO in the roof of the mouth

In the VNO, there are 3 types of “receptor proteins”. These receptor proteins respond to chemicals such as odors. We know more about the V1R protein than the other two.

Cats have 30 genetic variants of the V1R protein. Genetic variants refer to changes in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene. More genetic variants of the V1R protein allow cats to detect a greater variety of scents than say, dogs, who have only 9 genetic variants of this receptor protein. 

Cats can associate certain odors/scents with a particular experience, place or other animal. For example, to a cat, another animal or person has a signature scent that the cat uses to identify that individual.


Each whisker is embedded in a cluster of nerve endings located 3 x deeper in the skin than the surrounding hair follicles. Not only do whiskers alert your cat to the piece of furniture nearby, they alert him to changes in air currents, from say an open door or window.

Cats use their whiskers to navigate – whiskers help the cat pinpoint where she is relative to her surroundings – “can I fit behind this sofa?” Needless to say, a blind cat finds her whiskers crucial to getting around.

superpower #3 – hearing

Cats have one of broadest hearing ranges of all mammals. They are able to hear the high-pitched ultrasonic squeaks of mice and also the low-pitched tones of the human male voice.

Cats’ cone-shaped ears move independently of each other. Sounds will reach each ear at different times and allow the cat to pinpoint the source of the sound.

Watch as these blind cats track a bird.


Setting up a cat-friendly home for a blind or partially blind cat is much the same as setting it up for a sighted cat. He will need multiple, separate litter boxes, feeding and water stations, and safe places to retreat to.

Your blind kitty will use his incredible sense of smell and ability to discriminate between scents, to navigate his environment. His hearing and whiskers will also alert him to the presence of other animals and objects. And just like any “sighted” cat, he should be introduced gradually to a new environment. (Yes, rearranging the furniture is a “new” environment.)

Alana Miller of Blind Cat Rescue & Sanctuary has some tips for caring for a blind cat:

  • Blind cats should only be indoor pets. Make sure there are no open pet doors, windows or other ways your cat could get outside. (A secure area like a catio can give your blind kitty a safe outdoor experience).
  • Make sure the house is safe.  Keep cleaning chemicals, power cords or other potential tripping hazards out of your cat’s reach.  Be aware of spaces he could explore and get stuck in like behind washer/dryers.
  • Stairs.  Make sure you’re with your cat the first few times she uses the stairs until you’re sure…she knows where they are and is able to navigate them.
  • Know where your blind cat is. He can’t see you and may not know he’s under your feet… you don’t want to step on him by accident.
  • Let your blind cat know that you are going to touch her. A blind cat can’t see your hand coming … she might startle when you touch her.  As you approach, make sure you rub your fingers together or make a gentle noise with your hand to alert her.

Whether you adopt a blind kitty or your older kitty has vision loss, remember your blind cat has the same needs as sighted cats. With some modifications, you can provide a safe and enriching environment for your blind cat.

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Our cats see a different world than we humans do. They don’t share our discriminating color vision and are much more tuned into things that move quickly – like mice and birds.

Color Vision


Cats have pretty large eyes for their size – they are almost as large as a human’s eyes.  They have a slightly larger field of vision than we do and their retinas have more “rod” cells than we do, which help with seeing in low light.

On the other hand, humans have more “cone” cells in our retinas than cats do.  These cells are why we have such excellent color vision – we see  3 colors: red, blue and green.  We have some cone cells that respond to red light, others that respond to blue light, and still others that respond to green light. Cats have cone cells that are sensitive to blue and green light, but not red light.  A cat’s world is “faded” and “blurry” compared to ours, without the vibrant hues that we see and of course, no reds. Take a look Here.

Motion Detecting

We can see that treat lying on the carpet partly because we are better at detecting different shades and hues of color than a cat is.  If the toss that treat though, the game changes, and kitty pounces on it. Cats are much better at detecting fast motion – cats’ eyes construct around 60 visual images per second, which is 2x as fast as our human brains.


They are not able to see things closer than about 25 cm or 10 inches.  You may think this would handicap the cat when hunting but his super sense of smell and sensitive whiskers take over to hone in on that treat or mouse.


What Cats see in the dark

Cats’ retinas have many more “rod” cells than cone cells. These cells are very sensitive to light and allow the cat to see well where there is not much light – around dawn and dusk, when cats are out hunting.  The cat’s pupils can vary from slits to large dark circles, regulating the amount of light reaching the sensitive rod cells.

Ever noticed how your cat’s eyes seem to glow in the dark?  The cat has another set of specialized cells in its eye.  Behind the retina is the tapetum lucidum, a layer of cells that reflect light back through the retina so that the cones and rods have a second chance to process the light, which helps the cat see in the dark.  Light shining into the pupils of the cat’s eyes will be reflected by the tapetum lucidum, giving the eerie “eye shine” of cats in the dark.

What does my cat see when he looks at me?

Cats do recognize shapes of humans and other animals.  Studies show that cats respond to cat-shaped silhouettes by initially responding to them as real cats initially.  Then they approach the shape and confirm that it is not a real cat – it doesn’t smell right! Our silhouette is what the cat recognizes as human –  our facial features and expression most likely don’t mean much to the cat.

What does this mean for you, the guardian?

Meet and greet by extending a hand to your cat so that he can confirm who you are by scent.

Avoid giving your cat a prolonged direct stare – instead “slow blink” to let him know you are friendly.


A direct stare between cats is often a distance-increasing message – one cat telling the other to back off.  The “slow blink” is friendly gesture between felines.  Cats seem to appreciate their humans using the “slow blink”.