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A hunter and a non-hunter, use of peripheral vision

A hunter and a non-hunter, use of peripheral vision

by George
(Cumberland, MD USA)

Cassie, the hunter

Cassie wants to be brushed

Charcoal shows her fangs

Most cats, especially those that exhibit superior hunting motivations and skills, will prefer to use their peripheral vision most of the time. Others will use their eyes more like humans do. I have two female cats, one is a hunter (Cassie) and the other seems less interested in hunting (Charcoal).

When I first got these cats, both at the same time and ages (18 months old), the first thing that seemed remarkable about Charcoal the non-hunter was how human like she was. Her behavior immediately seemed to me to be "readable." This intrigued me very much. This was due mainly because she relied less on her peripheral vision and preferred to look directly at me and move her eyes and head to follow whatever action was occurring in her environment or whatever was interesting to her at any given moment. Thus, her eye and head movements "revealed" her thoughts, much like the way we read human motivations non-verbally, because these movements directly reflected her concerns.

Cassie seemed distant and aloof. In fact, the thought often crossed my mind early on that she was a little crazy or retarded. But as I came to better know her I realized she preferred to observe her environment in a "hunting mode" reflecting the basic nature of the hunter she really is.

One might even be able to separate the good hunters from the more superior hunters by observing whether the cat seems less or more aloof. The more "aloof," the better the hunter.

I have read that cats have about the same limitations as humans in terms of peripheral vision. I do not believe this at all. When a cat is sitting still in a location allowing them to see a broad expanse of their environment, they sit motionless and engage their peripheral vision to detect the slightest of movements.

Contrary to what most people believe, cats are not aloof or detached. The belief that cats are aloof is an anthropomorphic mistake. They may not look directly at you when you move. But this is because they are watching your movements very closely with their peripheral vision. Many cats prefer to maintain themselves in peripheral vision mode rather than direct viewing. This is also due to the fact that cats see details better at a distance of about two feet rather than up closer. This is not disengagement or aloofness. This is intense engagement!

I remember having read a scientific study of the anatomy of the cat's eye that claimed the optic nerve, which carries visual perception to the occipital (rear) area of the brain, is actually structured with what amounts to a cross hair subdividing their vision into four quadrants, not unlike what is designed into a scope of a hunting rifle. This would enhance the cat's ability to perceive very slight movement in its field of vision, especially in peripheral vision mode. And their ability to constrict their pupil into a thin vertical slit enhances their perception of movement by working with the cross hair in their optic nerve.


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A hunter and a non-hunter, use of peripheral vision

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Dec 02, 2010
Sitting still, starring into space
by: George

Thanks, Michael. Yes, I think that when a cat is sitting motionless and starring into space she is not being aloof at all but intensely aware. She's waiting for the slightest movement in her environment. And when you move the cat may not register any indication she is observing you. That's because remaining motionless is the best way for her to track your movements if she is using her peripheral vision.

Humans want and expect instant and obvious responses. But when trying to learn and understand what cats are thinking or doing, we have to put aside our human-centered assumptions.

Nov 30, 2010
by: Michael

Hi George. Thanks for taking the time to write a really nice and useful article.

I'll add a link to this on a page about cat eyes. I have never thought about this aspect of cat eyesight before and I find it interesting.

Thanks again.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in 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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