Can Cats See in The Dark? Without Night Vision Goggles!

Can cats see in the dark? It’s a question that occurs to most cat owners at some point when they’re awoken in the night to the noise of their cat prowling around in the dark. Despite being known for their dexterity cats can often excel at making noises through clumsiness, especially at night. This can lead people to question if cats can see in the dark, since the absence of daylight often isn’t a deterrent to their antics. Cat’s eyesight at night is different from our own, much like the rest of their senses.

Can cats see in the dark - black cat in the dark

Cats are natural hunters, to help with this their eyesight specialises in letting them see their prey. This includes giving them a little boost in seeing at night. Cats have other enhanced senses compared to humans, but also some drawbacks. Despite some popular myths about both, cats and dogs aren’t entirely blind to colours. However, their vision does share some similarities.

A cat’s eyesight isn’t necessarily better than humans. As a natural trade-off, their better night vision eyesight is balanced with worse eyesight in other areas. If you’re wondering if cats can see in the dark, the answer is that their eyesight is different entirely. Even if their vision did resemble night vision at night, it would be in a completely different way to our own. Cats’ perception of the world around them is entirely different from humans, their eyesight is a reflection of their evolution to function best as hunters, not indoor cats.

Can Cats See in The Dark?

Can Cats See in The Dark - Brown cat in the dark

Yes, cats can see in the dark but… at the expense of other things

If you’re wondering if cats can see in the dark, the answer is essentially yes, but with quite a few conditions. Cats can almost see in the dark, but not entirely. They won’t see the world around them with complete clarity like we can in the daytime. Even in the daytime, cats have different eyesight from us. At night, they have the advantage of needing less light to see clearly than we do. Cats only need 1/6 of the amount of light that a human does to see clearly.

If cats were choosing your light bulbs your electricity bill would be lower

Cats require a lot less lighting in the world to see things clearly than humans do. Since we have a habit of drowning our living spaces indoors and out with light at all times of the day, cats can usually see just fine at night. In entirely remote areas where there is no light, cats will still have a hard time seeing. This will depend on the level of light available from natural sources. However, in most areas with dense populations and high light pollution cats get the benefit of this low level of lighting much more than we do.

Cats don’t have night vision goggles but they do have unique pupils

The prevalence of lighting in urban areas means that cats have an easier time seeing clearly there at night. However, they can’t entirely see in the dark. They don’t have night vision goggles, but their eyes are capable of picking up on smaller amounts of light. This is due to the shape of their eyes and pupils. Their pupils are able to open to full circles and take in the maximum amount of available light.  So if you’re wondering if cats can see in the dark, as long as there is a little bit of light they can typically see because of their unique pupils and eye construction.

How Can Cats See in The Dark?

Can Cats See in The Dark - can with blue eyes

Don’t take a picture of your cat with a flash!

Cats have an extra layer of reflective cells in the retina of their eyes. This makes them take in more light than an average human eye. With this different type of pupil, they are able to use much more of the available light that goes to waste on people. This is responsible for their sensitivity to lights. As an example of this is the way a cat reacts to a photo with a flash. Their washed out look is a result of them taking in much more of the light from the flash than people.

Cats can lead you in the dark but don’t ask them for colour coordination advice!

Cats might have better eyesight than humans when it comes to the night. However, they don’t have all round better eyesight. Those advantages that cats have in seeing in the dark also cause them problems in seeing under a different light. Cats have more rod receptors and fewer cone receptors in their eyes. This helps them see in the dark but makes their vision worse with colours and detail.

No eye for detail… at least not close up

Cats aren’t entirely colour-blind. They can still detect most colours, but they struggle with certain parts of the spectrum. This mainly affects reds. Blue and green colours are easier for cats to pick up on, whereas red might resemble another colour to them. Their eyes are also less skilled at seeing things close up. They lack that eye for detail, which is why you rarely see a cat make a successful career as a painter. Cats have eyes which are geared to help them as hunters, which doesn’t need an eye for detail when close or much a sense of the complexities of colour.

How Does This Compare to Humans?

Cats have better peripheral vision

Cats also have much better peripheral vision compared to humans. They essentially see the world in widescreen! This gives them a natural advantage for hunting, for the same reasons that they can see in the dark. This helps them get a better view of their surroundings, even if their perception of colour in that wide image is a little off. This is one of the cooler quirks of cat vision, it gives them a wider view for anything coming up behind them.

Cats’ eyes are specialised for hunting

If you’re wondering why cats can see in the dark but not view colours, it is a reflection of what they need their eyes for while living in the wild. Many predatory animals have similar eyes to cats since this configuration helps them track and attack prey. This might not work so well for indoor cats, but for wild cats, it works to their advantage.

cat and dog puppy eyesight

How Does This Compare to Dogs?

Dogs are just as bad as cats when it comes to colours

Cat’s vision might be different from ours in a similar way to dogs, but they don’t have the same vision. While both animals are commonly thought to be colour blind or see entirely in grey, this isn’t the case with either animal. Dogs and cats have a similar type of colour-blindness, but they achieve this with different types of eyes! Dogs have two different types of cones on their retinas, this allows them to perceive things pretty differently. However, like cats, they do struggle with the colour red.

Cats and dogs rely on other senses… including the (mythical) sixth sense

Both dogs and cats rely more on other senses. It is important to keep in mind that animals perceive the world in an entirely different way to people. This makes their other senses just as important as sight. While their vision might be different, their entire outlook is.

Can Cats See in The Dark Better Than Dogs?

Cats see in the dark better than dogs, but dogs’ smell in unsurpassed

Dogs may have the same colour-blindness as cats but this is about where the similarities end. While cats can see in the dark, dogs don’t have this same advantage. They do not have the same sensitivity to light that cats do; this makes their night vision closer to our own than cats. Dogs are also quite nearsighted. They cannot see things at a distance that normal humans can. If a human, or a cat, had eyesight stop at the same distance as a dog then they would have a hard time navigating the world. This is made up for by their reliance on a sense of smell.

When it comes to eyesight – there’s no winner between the cat and the dog

Cats don’t necessarily have better eyesight than dogs, even if cats can see in the dark. Their eyesight is suited for different purposes. Cat eyesight serves them just as well in their lives as human’s eyesight does in theirs or that of a dog.

Cats see the world in an entirely different way than us… and not only at night

The question of whether cats can see in the dark doesn’t really account for the complexity of a cat’s view of the world. Dogs lack the ability to see that far away since they rely on their heightened sense of smell. Similarly, the sensory input of a cat is different from ours. They don’t perceive or understand the world in the same way that we do. While vision is important to them, they have other senses which also make up their picture of the world. The other senses of cats can help us understand why their night vision is important and how it works alongside their other night-related senses.

A Cat’s Other Senses

Cat's hunting instincts - ginger cat in a tree

Better at hearing

Cats have considerably better hearing than humans, they even outperform dogs in this regard. They can hear sounds on many frequencies that humans can’t, even humans who don’t have a constant ringing in their ears or are haunted by an ever-present hum. This sense helps them hunt, especially at night when the world is relatively quiet. By combining good night vision and good hearing, cats can usually catch their prey at night with their increased sensitivity.

Better smell than us… but not better than dogs’

Cats also have a better smell than humans. They don’t quite measure up to dogs in the smell department but it can help them track down any lost bits of food.

Not that great at taste… so no need to hire a Cordon Bleu chef for your cat

When it comes to taste cats have a weird set up. They have 473 taste buds on their tongues, whereas humans have somewhere around 9,000. This means they have to rely on their sense of smell even more for taste. Even if your cat is a picky eater, they don’t exactly have well-developed palates.

Why Do Cats Have Better Senses?

This balance of senses can show us a little more about the way a cat understands the world around them. Cats can see at night to help them thrive in their natural habitat. It’s the same reason they have better hearing and a wider range of eyesight, as well as not particularly needing to see details when up close.

funny cat with big googly eyes

Modern cats don’t have as much need for this type of eye sight. While cats might not use their night vision they still have it. You can rest a little easier when you hear your cat exploring in the night, they can probably see what they’re doing.


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