For many years, people questioned whether or not cats see color. Most of us believed dogs and cats could only see in black and white. We now know that just like humans, cats can see certain colors. In recent decades, we have also determined that humans’ perspective of color is not the end-all of which colors exist in the world. With these two revelations, it appears that cats’ worlds have grown, and humans’ worlds have shrunk! This topic is fascinating, and understanding how your cat perceives color can help you understand their experiences and help you connect with them in a more concrete way.
To understand which colors your cat can and cannot see, it’s important to learn how color is perceived and seen through the eyes. Inside the eye, there is the retina, which is filled with millions of cells called rods and cones. When you look at an object, such as a tree, a piece of fruit, or an item of clothing, light is reflected off of it, which is absorbed by the eye, leaping from the cornea, to the pupil, and finally to the retina.
The rods in your retina respond when there is little or no light, and the cones respond when there is enough light. This is why it can be so difficult to see color in the dark. The cones in humans’ eyes receive color from three different pigments – red, green, and blue. Every color that you’ve ever seen has been a combination of these three photo pigments. Humans can also be color blind. This does not mean these people live in a world of grays, it simply means they may not be able to see a few colors, and the colors they can see may be muted.
Now, try to imagine if there were other photo pigments inside your eyes, this would increase the amount of color that can be seen by the human eye!
Just like humans, cats’ eyes are constructed of the outer cornea, in which light is tunneled to the pupil, and finally to the retina. The difference is that cat’s retinas have different photopigments than humans do. Their eyes allow them to see muted blues, greens, and yellows. Some scientists believe they can also see purple, but that the purple would appear as closer to blue.
It isn’t just color that differs between human and feline eyes. Remember the two types of cells found in the retina, rods and cones? Cones are the cells that reflect colored light and allow our brains to perceive color, and rods are the cells that are activated in low light. This also solves the age old question of how cats are so much better at seeing in the dark than humans are. Cats have many more rods than humans, allowing them to see perfectly clearly in about ⅙ of the light required by humans to see. This, along with cats’ much improved depth perception, means cats can see much better than humans can, even though they do not see quite as many colors as we can.
Knowing exactly which colors cats can perceive is helpful to know, so we may enrich their lives in a more meaningful way. Try to keep this in mind when buying blankets, beds, and toys. Consider items that your cat can see the colors of. The same can be done with dogs. Dogs have a more limited version of visible colors with just yellows and blues. Could this be why dogs seem to love tennis balls so much?
Cats indeed can see some colors, but not all of the colors that humans can see. In the coming decades we may learn even more about cats’ and dogs’ vision, and find it to be even more complex. Next time when you are purchasing something for your cat, consider purchasing something blue, yellow, or green so it can be that much more meaningful to them. Your cat will love it.
Our veterinarians at Arrowhead Animal Hospital, are trained to provide quality and compassionate care to your pet. If you have questions regarding your cat’s health or would like to schedule an appointment with one of our skilled doctors, give us a call at (303) 469-1616. We are always here for you and are more than happy to help care for your cat with whatever you need!