Can Cats See in the Dark?

CatChannel expert Jeanne Adlon, professional cat sitter, offers information on whether cats can see in the dark and if they need night lights.

By Jeanne Adlon | Posted: October 7, 2011, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: Can cats really see in the dark or should I put some night lights around the house for safety?

A: A cat’s vision is far superior to ours but it is not true that they see perfectly in total darkness. They navigate pretty well because their whiskers act like radar while their ears are finely tuned, but putting out a few night lights can’t hurt especially if you have stairs. I know someone who has a trail of lights on the staircase for her cats that goes on promptly at dusk. One of her wonderful kitties does have vision problems but I am sure the others don’t mind having a lighted path to send them off on their nocturnal exploring.

Cats’ eyes are remarkable and any cat lover knows how expressive they can be — good, bad or testy. I suggest you add a periodic eye exam by the cat vet to your health care list — changes to the eye can often be the first sign of illness. Healthy eyes are clear and free of excessive tearing while cloudy eyes with lots of squinting and tearing are not the norm.

Over years of evolution, cats have developed a protective third eyelid, but cat’s eyes still are vulnerable to disease including cataracts and glaucoma. A common disorder is conjunctivitis, which is very contagious and why you see it often in crowded conditions like cat shelters. Fortunately conjunctivitis is easily diagnosed and treated.

I am often asked if cats are color-blind and I can only answer based on what I have read. Experts originally thought that cats see the world I shades of gray; now I have heard that cats can distinguish between certain shades like blues and greens. Unlike a bull, however, I don’t think they will charge a red flag — unless you are waving a bag of cat treats behind it. In my house waving the treat bag creates a stampede in all directions! Wishing you and your kitties the very best. As always I welcome your stories and comments.  

Good news! My new book, Cat Calls: Wonderful Stories and Practical Advice from a Veteran Cat Sitter with Cat Fancy editor Susan Logan is now available in stores and online. Please click here for more information.
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Reader Comments

marissa    ocala, FL

11/24/2013 6:04:16 AM

what I think about this article is its wonderful.
I have a cat named Mia and she is adorable.
now that I know about this, I will be 100% sure about my cats vision. XD o.o

Biddy    Leona, OH

7/6/2013 11:19:14 PM

Bulls are color blind, they don't charge because the flag is red. They charge because they see the movement.

Mary    Ann Arbor, MI

10/21/2011 3:00:15 AM

Cats and outside equals:worms, squished by cars and injuries by other cats whose owners let their cats roam outside.

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