Want to Know What Cat Vision Looks Like?

Ever wondered how your cat really sees the world? Then wonder no more. For years, scientists have been saying feline vision is a very different thing to its human equivalent. Thanks to Pittsburgh-based artist Nickolay Lamm, we can see just how different in its full, multicolored glory. After consulting with the clinical team at the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school, as well as with Dr. D.J. Haeussler of The Animal Eye Institute in Cincinnati and Dr. Kerry L. Ketring of All Animal Eye Clinic in Whitehall, Michigan, Lamm developed a series of photographs that shows the world through a cat’s eyes.

The results are extraordinary. As well as highlighting how certain colors are seen differently by cats than by us (cats tend to see things with less resolution and with more subdued hues), the images captured the magnitude of a cat’s visual field (while we can only span 180 degrees, cats have a visual field that spans a whopping 200 degrees). Even to the layman, Lamm’s photographs are intriguing. To the animal expert, they’re doubly so. “I think these images do a good job of illustrating the difference in colors seen, resolution, and night/day abilities that make cats different from us,” Dr. William Crumley, ophthalmology service chief at PennVet, told The Huffington Post.

Color Me Beautiful

Although Lamm’s images give us an arresting, visual insight into a cat’s world, the idea that cats see things differently to us is nothing new. Most of us are already aware that animals don’t see colors in exactly the same way as we do, with some species viewing the world in black and white and others unable to distinguish between certain hues. Cats, as Lamm’s photos show, see only a limited range of colors, and far fewer than we do. The reason for the difference comes down to cones (or in other words, the photoreceptor in the eye responsible for seeing color). While humans have three cones for red, green and blue vision, cats have only two – green and blue. Thus, while they’re able to see certain colors just as vividly and in much the same way as we do, other colors fall by the radar.

Night Owls

Before you start feeling too sorry for them, it’s important to note that while cats have a reduced capacity for color, they more than makeup for it in other ways. If you’ve ever wondered how cats manage to navigate so well in the dark, the answer lies in their pupils. Unlike us, cats are blessed with elliptical pupils. Without getting too technical about it, the chief benefit of elliptical pupils is their ability to get much larger and open and close far quicker than the bog-standard round pupils we’re stuck with. At nighttime, a cat’s pupils will get larger, allowing them to see shapes and objects in even the darkest conditions. It’s not just the shape of their pupils they can thank for their superior night vision. At the back of their retinas, cats have a tissue called tapetum lucidum, a very special little thing that reflects lights and helps increase the amount of light available to the photoreceptors. The end result? The superhero ability to see in the dark.

Blind As Bats

Considering the accuracy with which they stalk their prey, you’d have thought that cats are naturally blessed with 20/20 vision. As it turns out, if they were human, they’d probably be doing a good job of keeping their local ophthalmologist in business. Cats are nearsighted, and while they can see close-range objects well enough, anything over a few hundred yards away is likely to be a complete mystery to them. How, then, do they manage to find their prey? If they had to rely on their vision alone, they probably never would. Thankfully, cats are predisposed to extraordinary hearing. When it comes to hunting, their ears do the first part of the work, with their eyes (and other slightly sharper parts) coming into their own when their target gets within striking distance.

Windows to the Soul

We’ve all heard the expression that the eyes are the windows to the soul. In a cat’s case, they really might be. A cat’s eyes do a lot more than simply allow them to see. Study them closely enough and they can tell you a lot about how your cat’s feeling. Wide pupils in cats generally indicate one of several things: excitement, fear, or anxiety. Look into your cat’s eyes next time you pull out a bag of treats: if they’re anything like most cat’s, you’ll notice their eyes widen in anticipation. Equally, take a quick look (if you can) next time they hear a thunderclap: if they’re frightened of loud noises, it’s likely they’ll show it in some saucer-sized pupils.

Healthy Vision

Unlike dogs, whose sense of taste, sight, and smell all combine to color how they see the world, a cat relies predominantly on their sight. As such, it’s vital to keep a close eye on their vision and to address any problems as soon as possible. As Cat Time notes, some examples of the conditions that can result in visual problems include:

  • If you notice a pus-like eye discharge or have seen your cat pawing at their eyes more than normal, it could be a sign of an Upper Respiratory Infection.
  • FIV, FeLV, FIP, and feline herpes can also cause eye problems.
  • If your cat’s blinking excessively and experiencing clear discharge from one of their eyes, they may have unwittingly scratched their cornea.
  • Pink eye is just as common in cats as it is in humans. If you notice your cat’s eyes looking red and swollen, and if the swelling’s accompanied by a thick discharge, pink eye might be too blame.
  • As eye problems can be symptomatic of more serious underlying conditions, it’s vital to get a vet to give them a once-over as soon as possible


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