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.
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.
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”.