I love my cat. She’s a great companion, and I like watching her watch the world. Like most cat lovers, I’ve often wondered what she sees through those big brown eyes. Can she tell the difference between people just by looking? Does she know it’s me when I wave goodbye from the driveway?
A new project from artist Nickolay Lamm helps to answer some of these pressing cat-parent questions. Using information from top veterinarians and ophthalmologists, Lamm constructed images that contrast human and feline vision.
I was shocked to learn that although cat’s eyes are superior to ours in some ways, they’re not nearly as good in others.
While cats have a broader field of vision than we do, the resolution is inferior to ours. What seems clear to us at a distance of 100 feet or more is totally blurry to cats. They see things more clearly at 20 feet or less. (So no, your kitty doesn’t see your face as a big blob when you’re cuddling on the couch!)
What cats lack in distance vision is made up for in other areas, however. Cats can see six to eight times better in dim light than humans due to their eyes’ high number of rods and because of their elliptical pupil, large cornea and tapetum. Since cats are nocturnal animals, this is a great advantage for hunting and hiding from enemies.
More fun cat vision facts below! (Human vision on top, cat vision on the bottom)
Cats have a visual field of 200 degrees compared to humans’ 180 degrees. Peripheral vision for humans is 20 degrees on each side. This is represented by the blurriness.
What a normal human can see as unblurred and sharp at 100-200 feet, a cat would have to view from 20 feet. A cat’s visual acuity is between 20/100 to 20/200.
Cats were originally thought to be dichromats (color blind) like dogs and some humans. They have been found to have peaks at 450-454 nm and 550-561 nm (blue-violet and green-yellow, essentially). That said, there is some research out there that suggests cats may also have a third cone type that peaks at 500-520 nm (green area).
This new research would indicate that cats are actually trichromats, but not in the human sense since the cones aren’t as spread out and all fall in the violet-yellow range. Protanopic humans really only see blues and yellows (red-green color blind), so cats are probably like that, but with some green thrown in from that third cone type.
Our retinas have many more cones than cats, especially in the area of the fovea, which is all cones and no rods. This gives us fantastic day vision with lots of vibrant colors and excellent, detailed resolution.
Dogs and cats have many more rods, which enhances their ability to see in dim light and during the night.
The increase in rods also enhances a cat’s visual “refresh rate,” so that they can pick up movements much faster. This is very helpful when dealing with small animals that change direction very quickly during a chase. These differences also help them to have great night vision and an excellent ability to pick up and follow quick movements, but at the cost of less vibrant color, with less detailed resolution.
Interestingly, this also means that humans see slow-moving objects at speeds 10 times slower than cats. I.e. we see very slow things move whereas they would not appear to be moving to a cat.
All Photos used with permission from Nickolay Lamm, in consultation with Kerry L. Ketring, DVM, DACVO of All Animal Eye Clinic , Dr. DJ Haeussler of The Animal Eye Institute , and the Ophthalmology group at Penn Vet. Lead image via Thinkstock.