What do cats see?

The question in the title could be extended to include what the cat hears and smells. We know that cats have superior senses of smell and hearing.  As for their eyesight, it is both better and worse than ours. It is designed for night vision because cats are crepuscular predators. They hunt at dawn and dusk but also daytime and nighttime. It is not strictly demarcated.

People believe that cats are long-sighted (poor close up vision, so they rely on smell) and red color blind or perhaps red-greed color blind and have very sensitive nighttime vision but in black and white because the cells in the retina that see at night are not color sensitive.

A cat’s “minimal light threshold for vision is seven times less than that for most humans”¹

How might this translate to what a cat actually sees? I am interested in that but it is difficult to translate to actual example images. I have made a modest attempt nonetheless in the collage below.

What does a cat see? Original photo by IvanWalsh.com

A cat’s eyesight is all about catching prey. Cat prey is active at dusk and dawn. The retina of the cat’s eye has a reflective layer behind it that boosts vision. I am sure you know this. A cat’s eyes are also very large relative to their head. It is said that if a person had a eye “of comparable size” it would be almost 8 inches in diameter (20 centimeters)². The diameter is the distance across the eye. Although I am not sure what that means exactly but it does mean cat’s eyes are large. Also the pupil shape (a slit that expands) allows more light in when full expanded.

Click on the link to see a follow up page on this subject:

Cat Vision Pictorial Examples

The cat’s eye is recessed deep into the head. This restricts eye movement and results in increased head movement. The eyes, though are located at the front of the head which provides excellent peripheral vision.

A cat’s poor close up vision prompts me to ask whether this is the reason why cats often leave food in the bowl. Cats locate food in the food bowl through smell. All the cats I have lived with have tended to leave food in bowl. Yet if you take the bowl off them and rearrange the food in the center of the bowl and return it to them they eat it.

Associated: Cat Eyes.


  1. Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook 3rd ed page 169.
  2. As above page 168.
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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in a many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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