Cats have often been thought of as colorblind by both cat owners and those not as familiar with feline vision. However, the truth is that cats can see color, they just perceive it differently compared to humans. Here’s a look at how cat eyesight works and how it compares to human vision.
Can Cats See Color?
Yes, cats can see color. However, their color vision is limited compared to humans. Cats have two types of color receptors (cone cells) in their eyes, while humans have three. This means cats can see some colors, but their world is not as vividly colored as ours.
The two cone types in cat eyes are most sensitive to blue and green shades. This means colors like reds, oranges, and browns appear more greenish or gray to cats. Bright blues and greens stand out more to cats. Purples, violets, and magentas can also appear more blue in tone to cats.
How Cat Color Vision Compares to Humans
Human eyes have cone cells that detect red, green, and blue light. Having three color channels allows humans to see the full spectrum of visible light colors. Cat eyes have cones mainly tuned for blue and green, limiting their range of color perception.
Here are some key differences between cat and human color vision:
- Cats do see some colors, but their world is not as vibrant and rich in tone as human color vision.
- Reds, oranges, and browns are harder for cats to distinguish and often appear more green or gray.
- Blues and greens stand out more to cats and appear brighter.
- Cats have trouble distinguishing between red, yellow, and green shades.
- Cats are better able to detect brightness and movement than subtle shades.
- Cats do have good night vision thanks to high rod cell density.
Cat Eyes Have More Rods Than Cones
Unlike human eyes, cat eyes have many more rod cells than cone cells. Rods detect light and motion, while cones are needed for color vision. The high proportion of rods allows cats to see well in dim light, enabling their excellent night vision.
Here’s a comparison of the rod and cone density in cat and human eyes:
|Eye Cell Type||Cat Eyes||Human Eyes|
|Rods||Approx. 200 million||Approx. 120 million|
|Cones||Approx. 5 million||Approx. 6-7 million|
As you can see, cats have nearly twice as many rods as humans, but a similar cone count. This rod-heavy makeup allows cats to see better in dim light but limits their color perception.
Do Cat Families See Color Differently?
Most cat breeds and families are believed to have similar color vision capabilities. However, there are a few potential differences between breeds:
- Siamese cats may have more cone cell types giving them slightly better color vision.
- Albino cats lack pigment and may have impaired vision including reduced color perception.
- Cross-eyed cats can have visual perception issues due to eye misalignment.
But in general, cat eyes and color vision do not vary much between different breeds. The key factors are the cone cell types tuned to blue and green light.
Can Cats See as Many Colors as Humans?
No, cats cannot see the full spectrum of colors that humans can. They have fewer cone cell types so their range of color perception is more limited.
Humans have three cone types detecting red, green, and blue. This trichromatic vision allows humans to distinguish around 10 million different colors. Cats only have two main cone types, so their dichromatic vision limits them to about 1 million distinguishable colors.
However, keep in mind that cats don’t actually see in black and white. They do still have partial color vision and can detect a range of hues, especially blues and greens.
Do Cat Toys Need Color for Mental Stimulation?
Since cats have limited color vision, toys do not necessarily need bright colors to be stimulating. Simple toys that move in interesting ways, have appealing textures, or release food can all be great for cats.
However, certain colors may catch their eye more. Bright blues and greens will stand out against other muted shades in a cat’s vision. Contrasting colors can help make toys more visible. And while cats have trouble with reds and browns, adding some color variety can make toys more apparent and interesting to cats.
Can Cats See TV and Phone Screens?
Cats can see modern LED and LCD screens, but their poor color vision limits what they actually perceive. The rapidly changing imagery and colors on TV and phone screens can appear as blurry shapes moving around to cats.
Cats may pay attention to moving cat videos or games on a screen, but mainly they are responding to the motion, not necessarily the colors and details. Screens optimized for human vision will not appear as vividly colorful or high-contrast to cats.
Do Cats Have Trouble Seeing Certain Colors?
Yes, cats have a harder time distinguishing between colors in the red to green range. Their limited cone cells make it harder for cats to differentiate shades of:
These colors may appear more muted, grayish, or green toned to cats. Bright vivid reds and greens can stand out more. Otherwise, cats rely more on brightness, contrast, and texture than color.
Can Cats See As Well As Humans?
Cat vision differs from human sight in a few key ways:
- Cats have a wider field of view (200 degrees vs. 180 degrees in humans)
- Cats see better in dim light due to more rods, but colors are muted
- Cats have limited color perception compared to humans
- Cat eyes are more near-sighted and lose focus on distant objects
- Cats see finer movement and detect rapid motion better
Neither cats nor humans see “better” overall. Each species has vision adapted for their needs. Humans evolved to see rich color for gathering food, while cats evolved for night hunting.
To summarize, cats do see some color shades, especially blues and greens – but their world is less colorful than human vision. Cat eyes evolved for detecting motion and night vision rather than a wide spectrum of color. So while cats don’t see in total darkness, their vision is tuned for different needs than human sight.