Can My Cat See In The Dark?

And what’s up with those glowing eyes? 👀

can cats see in the dark

The way your cat’s eyes glow at night can definitely be spooky, but did you know that it can actually help him see in the dark?

While your cat’s eyes aren’t as powerful as night vision goggles, they allow him to see quite well in lower lighting because of their structure.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian working with Doggie Designer, to find out just how well cats can see in the dark.

Do cats have night vision?

You might assume your cat must have night vision since he seems to see better in the dark than you do. But that’s not entirely accurate.

“We’ve all heard that cats can see in the dark, but the truth is, in pitch black, they can’t see any better than we can,” Dr. Bonk told The Dodo. “If you’re imagining a cat running around in the darkness, seeing in shades of green similar to night vision goggles, forget it. Cats can’t see in the total darkness. They need some amount of light.”

Even though cats can’t see in complete darkness, their vision’s still pretty good as long as there’s a little light left.

“Where they have the advantage is during those twilight or dusk hours when it is starting to get dark or starting to get light,” Dr. Bonk said. “So, during the grey hours of dawn or dusk, cats can see well.” And this makes total sense since cats are crepuscular animals, which means they’re most active at dawn and dusk.

How do cats see?

What allows your cat to even see in the first place are the retinas in his eyes.

“The retina is the layer of cells at the back of the eye that takes the light that we see and transmits it to the brain, where it is processed into images,” Dr. Bonk said.

Your cat’s retinas are made up of rods and cones. Rods are cells in his eyes that allow him to see brightness and shades of gray. Cones are the cells that enable your pet to see colors.

Cats have a lot of rods in their eyes, which is what helps them see in the dark.

Cat vision vs. human vision

When comparing a cat’s vision with a human’s vision, it’s not quite fair to say one is better than the other. Instead, cats have advantages that humans don’t, while humans can see some things cats can’t.

And that all comes back to those rods and cones.

“The main difference between a cat’s vision and a human's is in the retina,” Dr. Bonk said. “Cats’ eyes have a lot of rods and very few cones, and humans have the opposite.”

Since cats have more rods, they have a leg up when it comes to seeing in darker settings. “They see better than we do in low-light hours of the day, such as dawn or dusk,” Dr. Bonk said.

On the flip side, cats don’t have many cones in their eyes, which affects how far away they can see and which colors they can process. “​​A cat can’t see as well at a distance as we can and doesn’t get the [same] variety of colors,” Dr. Bonk said.

Why do cats’ eyes glow?

So you’re probably wondering why your cat’s eyes seem to glow in the dark. Well, it actually has to do with a part of his eye called the tapetum lucidum.

“Another great part of a cat’s eye that allows for better vision in the dark is the tapetum lucidum,” Dr. Bonk said. “This layer acts like a mirror in the back of the eye, reflecting light back onto the receptor cells, allowing them to see more with less light.”

The tapetum lucidum is what makes it look like your cat’s eyes are lighting up, since it’s reflecting the little light his eyes are taking in.

“This is what gives off that eerie glow when light strikes it in the darkness,” Dr. Bonk said.

So there you go! Cats can see in the dark better than we can, as long as it’s not pitch black. Between all the rods in their retinas and the reflective layer responsible for those glowing eyes, your pet’s pretty well-equipped to see in low lighting.

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