Guide to a Cat’s Vision

* Originally written by William O’Brien for ProtectaPet

One of the first features you notice on a cat is their dazzling eyes. Not only the gorgeous colours, but the way they use them. When you see your cat trying to hunt something down, whether that be prey or a toy you are playing with, it is clear that a cat has a quality of vision that allows it to be a successfully stealthy animal. 

The quality of the eyesight of cats has been widely discussed and over time, thanks to science, we know more and more about if they can distinguish between different colours, how well they can see and the differences between the eyesight of a cat and a human.  

Can Cats See Colour?

It used to be widely believed that our feline friends are colour blind, only being able to see the world in black and white. Over the years, this theory has been proven wrong by scientists and we now know much more about what colours cats are able to detect with their striking eyes. 

There are two different types of colour receptors (cones and rods)  found within the eyes of both cats and humans. The cone receptors are linked to what we can see in the daytime and how we perceive the colours around us. The rod receptors are associated with what we can see in the dark and also our peripheral vision. Cats possess a larger amount  of rod receptors and a lower amount of cone receptors whereas humans are the opposite way round. This is why humans can’t see as well in the dark but can recognise and detect colours much better than cats.

The major difference between cats and humans is that we have three cone receptors, whereas cats have two. This is why cats won’t be able to see the world as vivid and clear as we can, however, this doesn’t mean that they are completely colour blind. The main colours that cats see is a range of blues and yellows, as well as some greens (along with white, black and grey). 

The colours that cats struggle to register are found within the orange-red spectrum, this was discovered through certain food-reward related tests which opened our eyes to what cats can and can’t see. 

What are the advantages of a cat’s vision? 

Although we may have one more cone receptor than cats do, they have more rod receptors within their eyes which makes them have excellent night vision. Cats have incredibly intelligent constructed eyes, and they are able to adapt to low light settings in a plethora of different ways. 

If you’d like to know more, check out this article about the superior night vision of a cat.

They also have a wider field of view than humans, we have a peripheral vision of 180 degrees whereas cats can see up to a 200 degree view. 

This makes them excellent hunters and of course, especially at night time. So although they may not see the vibrant array of colours that our world has to offer, they have plenty of other advantages and features related to their vision that show that they are an incredibly successful species. 

Why do cats love people who hate cats?

I remember the scene vividly as it happened every time my grandmother visited: as soon as my grandmother entered the front door the cat disappeared from the living room. This left my grandmother disappointed as she loved cats. The only time the cat did not leave in time my grandmother rushed over only to be confronted by a cat turning its back on her.

Conversely, cats tend to approach those people that do not want to interact with them at all. Why?

Well, precisely because these people do not seek any contact. This means the cat is in control of the interction. About whether or not it happens and how long it will last. The ‘non cat person’ is far more likely than the ‘cat person’ to accept a cat’s boundaries and need for space.

Click here for the research study if you’d like to find out more.

Problem-solving ability and laterality in cats

I started teaching Dirk to give paw a few months ago and we have now progressed to one knock = right paw and two knocks = left paw. Of course he makes mistakes occasionally, but overall he is pretty good at giving me the paw I’m asking for.

When I first started training Dirk I noticed he has a slight preference to use his left paw. He would always use that oe first and also uses it most frequently. He also uses his left paw most when playing with his puzzle feeders (though he does switch to right paw as well).

Intrigued by his paw preference I started looking into research about domestic cats and left- or right-pawedness and found a very interesting research paper on this topic. Obviously, food was involved in testing the cats as participation needs to be rewarding for them too 😉 However, even that could not convince all cats to participate as 3 out of 41 cats tested did not move a paw at all. Of the other 38 cats, 10 were right-pawed, 12 left-pawed and 16 were ambilateral: they showed no preference for either left or right paw.

The study showed that cats with a clear paw preference, either left or right, were better at solving the food puzzles than those cats that did not have a paw preference. The cats with a paw preference found their way to the food a lot quicker with fewer paw movements.

The researchers discovered that domecats actually preferred opening the food puzzles with their head rather than paw. Those that had a head preference opened fewer sections of the puzzle feeder than those with a paw preference. This means that cats that perfer to use their paws possibly have better motor skills and problem-solving skills than those that prefer using their heads. One possible explanation that some cats have a head preference may be related to domestication: we tend to feed our cats from bowls which does not require any motor skills from the cat.

Does it matter whether a cat is left-pawed or right-pawed, ambilateral or prefers to use their head? In a domestic cat probably not, but perhaps this research gets us one step closer to proving just how intelligent cats are 😉

Left-pawed or right-pawed, just stretch them all

Say my name, say my name: do cats recognise their names?

Cat owners or lovers would probably say that of course cats recognise their names. More sceptical people might wonder whether they really recognise their name or just respond to their owner’s voice.

Research by Atsuko Saito, Kazutaka Shinozuka, Yuki Ito and Toshikazu Hasegawa shows that cats do indeed recognise and respond to their names! Their study showed that cats respond to their name when said by their owner and also when said by a test person. Cats also distinguish between their name and other words, both by owners and test persons.

Cats can learn a variety of words: they form associative meaning between words and things. As owners, we often say “treat” and find the cat comes running: they have learned that this word means they’ll get some tasty food. They can learn other words too: I often ask Dirk if he wants to cuddle. He has learned that when I say cuddle he will get a lot of strokes and fuss so depending on his mood he’ll come over. Another word he knows is “coffee”, although his association of the word is not with the drink, but with time to sit in my lap 😉

Did you just say coffee?

Say my name, say my name: do cats recognise their names?

Cat owners or lovers would probably say that of course cats recognise their names. More sceptical people might wonder whether they really recognise their name or just respond to their owner’s voice.

Research by Atsuko Saito, Kazutaka Shinozuka, Yuki Ito and Toshikazu Hasegawa shows that cats do indeed recognise and respond to their names! Their study showed that cats respond to their name when said by their owner and also when said by a test person. Cats also distinguish between their name and other words, both by owners and test persons.

Cats can learn a variety of words: they form associative meaning between words and things. As owners, we often say “treat” and find the cat comes running: they have learned that this word means they’ll get some tasty food. They can learn other words too: I often ask Dirk if he wants to cuddle. He has learned that when I say cuddle he will get a lot of strokes and fuss so depending on his mood he’ll come over. Another word he knows is “coffee”, although his association of the word is not with the drink, but with time to sit in my lap 😉

Did you just say coffee?