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Cats are among the most infamous of domesticated nocturnal creatures. Whether it’s a lioness prowling the savannah or your Tabby roaming around the kitchen, cats do their best hunting once the sun goes down. They can sift through the darkness to find the perfect “gift” of destruction to find in the morning. “How does my cat see in the dark?” you may ask. In short, cats and their eyeballs are built for it.
While it may seem like it, your cat doesn’t have built-in night vision goggles. They do, however, have acute eyesight that only requires a fraction of the light human eyesight needs - one-sixth to be exact. Though they can’t see in 100% darkness, cats can pick up on the smallest bits of low light to color in a space and move through what, to humans, seems dark. Outside that low lighting is often moonlight. Indoors or in a city there are more than enough devices and reflective surfaces to illuminate a cat’s vision.
Cats' eyes are one of nature’s best designs - literally. To support their nocturnal behavior, cats eyes’ have several features specifically tailored to help them hunt efficiently during nighttime hours.
First is the actual shape. Cats’ infamous slit-like pupils allow more light into the eye than humans’ circular pupils.
The second is the size. Cat eyes can expand at night, to the point where their pupils suddenly become the size of small saucers. This is, again, made by design. Dilation allows more light into the eye, permitting cats to see even in dimly lit situations and allowing them to focus on very specific details. Dilation makes hunting a far more successful endeavor.
Humans have a 180-degree field of vision. Cats, on the other hand, have a 200-degree field. These extra twenty degrees give cats expanded peripheral vision, which takes “seeing something out of the corner of your eye” to a whole new level. Great for cats, not so much for mice, lizards, or crickets lurking around the house. With a wider field of vision, cats can view more minute light sources and motions.
Feline vision is far superior to human vision, but to top it all off cats can also see ultraviolet light. So, they don’t have night-vision goggles, but they do have a built-in blacklight filter thanks to the UV waves their own eyes transmit. Similar to some snakes’ vision, this is especially helpful in tracking bio-fluorescent urine trails left by potential prey.
Living with cats day in and day out can make it difficult to remember that they’re also incredibly complex and fascinating creatures. The more we understand them and how their bodies work, the better parents we can all be. If a cat seems to be moving differently, has watery eyes, or is less sure in its low-light movements consider speaking with a veterinarian. Much like humans, as cats age, their eyes may naturally encounter some health complications. Fuzzy’s 24/7 Live Vet Chat is available to answer any general or acute questions you might have about your cat’s vision and health.