Can cats see in the dark?

Cats may not be classed as nocturnal animals – they actually fall into the crepuscular category – but they do tend to be most active when the sun is at its lowest. 

Given their fondness for low light adventures, it’s a widely held belief that felines can see well in the dark. And they can.

But while felines are perfectly adept at navigating night-time comfortably, it isn’t as if they’re strolling around with their very own pair of night vision goggles. 

They do need some level of light in order to see well – just nowhere near as much as us. 

Cat vision versus human's – How much better can cats see than us in the dark?

Cats can’t see in absolute darkness any more than us humans can.

However, that’s where the sight similarities end.

Felines only need one-sixth of the amount of light that we do in order to see well in the dark. Couple this with the fact their pupils expand wider than ours, thus letting more light in, it’s no surprise they’re able to see approximately eight times better than we can in lowlight conditions. 

It has to be said, we’re not completely outperformed when it comes to the human vs cat eye test though. Our feline friends are actually quite shortsighted in comparison meaning they’re unable to focus well on objects in the distance. 

Why are cats able to see so well in the dark?

  •  Shape of their pupils. While we have circular pupils, you may have noticed cats’ are slit-like and vertical. What this means is that more light is allowed into their eyes. If you look at the eye closely, you will actually see that they contract in sunlight and dilate at night-time; again helping with seeing in the dark. 
  • Retina receptors. Rod receptors in our eyes allow us to see better when experiencing low light conditions. The big difference here between humans and felines is the amount of rods we have. Cats have a far higher number of rod receptors in their eyes, allowing them to see much clearer in the dark. On the other hand, we have a much higher concentration of cone receptors, which aid day vision and colour perception. 
  • Reflective eyes. You may not have heard of the ‘tapetum lucidum’, but this is the reflective layer of tissue that sits behind a cat’s eyes and, acting as a mirror, bounces light back through the retina to the photoreceptors. If you’ve ever noticed your cat’s eyes glowing at night, the tapetum lucidum is the reason why. 
  • Wider field of vision. Excellent peripheral vision is another reason cats are so proficient at finding their way around at night-time. They don’t quite have the same field of vision as their canine counterparts – 240 degrees – but at 20 degrees more than a human’s 180-degree view, they are able to detect even the subtlest of movements out of the corner of their eye.
  • Super senses. It’s not just cats’ eyes that give them their incredible ability to see well in the dark. They also have an extremely acute sense of smell and hearing, which together with the sensitive touch receptors in their whiskers, gives them the perfect package for twilight exploration.

Is my cat safe to go outside in the dark?

Letting our cats out at night for the first time can be a frightening experience – mainly for us pet parents. But what you need to remember is that most cats are born to roam. And for that reason – as well as the super senses we’ve mentioned above – you can rest easy knowing they’ll be perfectly safe on their night-time excursions.

If this information was helpful, then you may also like:

Share this article