Can cats see in the dark?

Cats seem to do all their best hunting at night. It’s not unusual for cat owners to wake up to a “present”– such as a mouse or possibly even a sock –lying at the foot of their bed.

These night-time incidents lead us to ask the question: can cats see in the dark?

Is that true? Can they really see in the dark? And, if so, how? Keep reading to discover the secrets behind the cat's intelligent eyes.

Can cats see in the dark

The short answer is not exactly. Cats cant see in complete darkness, they require at least a small amount of light to see. However, they only need one-sixth of the amount of light that humans do and can see in very low light.

In the rare event that there is absolutely no light cats won't be able to see a thing, but still, their vision in low light is much more advanced than that of humans.

How cats see in the dark

We have already established the fact that cats can see better than humans in the dark.

But why, exactly, is that? Why are cats so much better at seeing in the dark than we humans are?

There are several reasons why cats have better night vision than humans, and most of them have to do with the structure of their eyes. Here are some of the reasons scientists think cats can see better in the dark.

Pupil shape

The pupil is the black part at the center of your eye. Almost all animals (and all humans) have circular pupils. But cat pupils are elliptical, slit-shaped, which helps them see in the dark. Elliptical pupils can push more light into the eyes as compared to circular ones, in darkness.

Cat pupils also dilate significantly to allow the light to enter it during the night. Cats can expand their pupils by around 135 times, the human pupil, on the other hand, can only expand by around 15 times.

It’s due to the vertical pupil that cats can see so much at night and at the same time not be completely blinded during the day.

Rods and Cones

All eyes (human, dog, cat, and otherwise) contain two different kinds of light-sensitive cells called rods and cones. Each cell has a different function.

Rods are responsible for vision at low light levels and peripheral vision while Cones are active at higher light levels, are capable of color vision.

Cat eyes have about 6-8 times the number of rod cells that the human eye has, which is one reason why they can see well in low-light conditions.

Cats, however, have a lower number of cones than humans hence their color sensitivity isn't as good as a human's.

Tapetum lucidum

Nope, that’s not a Harry Potter spell. It’s an additional layer of tissue behind the retina that cats have. This layer is completely absent in humans but present and very useful in cats.

The tapetum is the shiny green reflective surface we often see in photographs of cat eyes or when we see cats at night.

This tissue acts as a retroreflector, it reflects visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available, giving cats an even higher ability to see through the darkness.

Vision: Cats vs Humans

Now that you know the secrets behind the cat’s vision, you may be curious about how it actually sees the world. The following images captured by Nickolay Lamm demonstrates the differences between human and cat vision.

Cats have a visual field of 200 degrees compared to humans 180 degrees.

What a normal human can see as unblurred and sharp at 100-200 feet, a cat would have to view from 20 feet.

Cats can see 6-8 times better in dim light than humans.

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