Categories: eyes

Do domestic cats prefer light or dark?

The question is asking whether domestic cats prefer the amount of light encountered in daytime or at night. There is no doubt that the question has been asked because it is a well-known fact that domestic cats have retinas containing a high percentage of light-sensitive receptors called “rods” which are designed to pick up light under dark conditions and which provide an almost black-and-white image. Therefore somebody has concluded that domestic cats prefer to be in night-time conditions but this is not true.

Cat at night. Illustration: PoC.

The domestic cat can see equally well at night and during the day. Their eyesight is perfectly adequate in daytime despite their sensitivity to lowlight conditions. This is because the domestic cat’s eye has an iris which can be ‘stopped down’ like a camera lens to a very thin slit and a curtain, by which I mean the eyelid, can be drawn down across that slit to further restrict the amount of light entering the eye and impinging upon the retina.

It is unsurprising that the domestic cat’s eyes are attuned to both daylight and nighttime conditions because they hunt by day and night and prefer dawn and dusk (crepuscular) to encounter prey animals at that time. The cat’s desire to go out in low light conditions is not because the like low light but because prey animals are out at that time. These animals are trying to avoid predators like the cat!

I’m convinced that if you asked 100 domestic cat owners (guardians) who let their cats go outside, 80 of them would confirm that their cat goes out during the day and at night.

The cat’s adaptation to low light conditions is due to their prefernce to crepuscular hunting for the reasons stated. It is neither dark nor light at these times. I’d suggest that the domestic cat’s slit iris combined with the eyelid ‘curtain’ is a possible adaptation to block bright light entering a sensitive eye.

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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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