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Can Cats See in the Dark?

Cats are well-known for being more active at night. Because of this, you might wonder if cats can see in the dark, and if so, how well. Our South Florida vets share some facts about feline eyesight and how they see their world.

If you've ever been woken up at 3 a.m. by your cat's nighttime antics, you are certainly not alone; kitties are notorious for their midnight zoomies. Besides being momentarily annoyed at the loud bumps and crashes your feline companion can cause, you might also wonder if cats truly are nocturnal as many believe, and how well they can see in the dark.  

In this post, we'll explain when cats are most active, whether they can see better in the dark than in daylight, how their vision compares to the average human's, and more. 

How Well Can Cats See in the Dark?

While many people believe that cats have excellent night vision, they do need at least some level of light to see. However, they only require one-sixth of the amount of light that humans do, and can see in very low light - a skill that gave cats an upper hand over their prey when hunting for food. 

How Cats See in the Dark 

In the rare event that there is no light whatsoever, cat's won't be able to see in total darkness. That said, their sight is much more advanced than that of humans. Your feline companion's eyes have certain unique characteristics that allow their eyes to take in more light than other types of animals. 

When you look into your cat's eye, you'll notice they have extremely large, slit pupils. In fact, the pupils are about 50% larger than humans' and allow more light into their eyes. The extra light helps them to see in the dark. You might notice the pupils close more during the day to prevent light from flooding the eye. 

There's also a tapetum (a layer of extra tissue at the back of the eye), which reflects light and hits it back to the retina. The tapetum helps bring more light into the eye in low-light situations. 

In most people's homes, there is always a bit of light coming from somewhere, so your cat probably does not roam around in complete darkness. Though it might seem like cats are nocturnal, they are actually crepuscular, which means they hunt at dawn and dusk. It's at this time of day when many other animals (including their prey) become more active. 

Can Cats See Better in the Dark Than Humans? 

Watch your cat's eyes in the morning sunlight vs. later in the evening and you'll soon see that their pupils constrict in bright light and dilate in the dark. 

Cats see much better than us in the dark because of the shape and movement of their eyes; their vertically slit pupils give them an advantage over humans, who have circular pupils. They can alter the intensity of light falling on its retina 135-fold, compared to tenfold in a human

Kitties also see the world mostly in shades of grey, which is ideal for low light. However, humans have clearer vision (visual acuity) than cats. While people can see more clearly than their cats, felines have an edge when it comes to night vision. 

Should I Leave a Light on For My Cat?

While most cats should be fine without a light on at night, it will not necessarily harm your feline companion to have a light left on when you go to bed. This is especially true if your cat has issues with their eyesight or seems to be frightened of the dark. 

If your cat feels anxious when the lights go out, they may:

  • Cry or yowl 
  • Display anxious body language (hair standing on end, ears pinned back, tail tucked or flicking) 
  • Lash out at people or other animals in the dark

Where Should I Go If I Think My Cat May Be Having Problems With Their Eyesight?

Cats sometimes develop minor or severe eye conditions that can affect how your pet sees and cause discomfort. While some of these conditions are age-related, others are injuries or diseases. 

No matter the issue, any suspected discomfort or loss of sight should be promptly assessed by a veterinarian or veterinary ophthalmologist. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to positive outcomes for your cat's health.  

Our board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists at Animal Eye Guys work with your pet's primary care vet to provide the most comprehensive and compassionate eye care possible. We can diagnose and treat virtually any eye condition or disease, including infections, tumors, dry eye, and more. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you have questions about your cat's eyesight, or suspect they may have a vision problem? Contact our South Florida veterinary ophthalmologists to book a consultation today.

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