A Look at What Your Cat Sees

The best way to describe what a cat sees is to compare their abilities to our own.

That’s really not a fair comparison as my cat, Yogi, has vision needs other than mine. I need to watch football and she needs to catch that darn laser dot.

Color Me Black and White

They say cats see color, just not as much as us. They also say we have 10 times as many cones in our retinas which are light receptors that function best in bright light. Now, by “They” I mean a bunch of folks on the internet who have lots of letters behind their names, so it must be true. Since we have no way of asking cats themselves, we assume that cats don’t see as rich a color as we do; most of us anyway. Cats can be compared to color blind humans in that regard, which is just another reason my cat Yogi and I bond so well; I can’t differentiate certain shades of pinks, purples or blues, so I stay safe and mainly dress in black in white.

Oh Say Can You See

I need glasses to read, but since Yogi never reads—well, I’ve never seen her read—she doesn’t need them for close up work. She could probably use them for seeing distant objects, though—but since I can’t even keep a collar on her, I’m sure she would lose her glasses as well. They say cats have between 20/100 to 20/200 vision while, on average we have 20/20. Once again I’m bringing down the curve. Now what this means, is they have good vision close up but distance is a problem. Cats may not see as well at twenty feet away but close up: Yogi can see a snowflake dropping, a grasshopper hopping or a rubber band flopping every time. I’m not sure what the laser dot distance is or why that seems to drive her crazy, but it sure is fun isn’t it? I have never seen anything fascinate a human as much as a laser pointer does a cat, though my daughter’s cellphone is a close second.

We Belong to the Night

Cats have a wider range of view than us; we’re at about 180 degrees while they have about 200 degrees. Their eyes have 6-8 times more rod cells, which are more sensitive to low light, than ours. The extra rod cells allow them to see motion better at night than us, which accounts for why she stares out the window at 3 AM every morning.

Her eyes have an elliptical shape, which along with a larger cornea and what they call a tapetum lucidum, account for a much better field of peripheral vision, especially at night. Now, the tapetum lucidum, while not only a Latin word that is meant to impress, is a reflective layer behind her retina that improves her ability to see in the dark. Just knowing that improves your ability to impress at Trivial Pursuit, cocktail parties, and on your own internet blog.

See What I Mean

I can see further, but she can see better at night. I don’t want to get into too many comparisons though because she blows me away on napping, stalking, and generally just being cute. She is a better hunter but I have the grocery store on my side. So in conclusion I would, say, next time you’re wondering what your cat is looking at, whip out the laser pointer and remove all doubt.

Meet the Author: Michael Ryan

Michael Ryan is a full-time musician along with a humor, travel and outdoor recreation columnist. He's also an avid skier and golfer and has traveled extensively around the U.S, the Caribbean and Europe. His musical career takes him all over the U.S. and his wife drags him everywhere else. His weekly columns “The Life of Ryan” ran in the Transcript and Sentinel newspaper chain for several years and have been featured in the Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News and Mile High Magazine. He is the co-founder, editor and humor columnist for ColoradoLocalLegends.com and currently resides in Morrison, Colorado.

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