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Cat Eyes Are Even Cooler Than You Thought
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Cat Eyes Are Even Cooler Than You Thought

Ben, Critter Culture Staff
Updated Sep 4, 2020

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Cat eyes are just as fascinating as they are beautiful. These little household predators see the world quite differently than we do, and their unique vision gives them an edge during hunting expeditions, especially at night. From cats' abilities to see colors to their vertical pupils, cats' eyes just get more interesting the closer you look.

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1

Cats have superior night vision

Cats' eyes can see better in low light. Photography by Adri / Getty Images

Cats' eyes have significantly more rod cells compared to other species' eyes. Rod cells pick up outside light and are the reason animals can see in low light. Compared to humans, cats have about 6 to 8 times more rod cells in their eyes, which makes their night vision far superior. Since cats evolved to be most active around dusk and dawn, their eyes evolved to help them see their prey more easily in low light. Cats still can't see in complete darkness, but they can make their way around a room or landscape in very low light while their humans are still fumbling around, looking for a light switch.

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2

Cats can see color, but not as well as humans

CARAAZUL / Getty Images

Contrary to common belief, cats can actually see color, although their eyes aren't built to see as many colors as human eyes. This is because cats have fewer cone cells in their retinas than humans do. Cones cells do for color what rod cells do for light — since cats have less of these cells, they see a smaller spectrum of color. It's believed that cats see a world similar to the way color-blind humans do. Red-hued colors may be difficult for cats to see, but they likely do see blues and greens. The colors cats see are also less vibrant and saturated than what humans see.

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Their vertical pupils aren't just for show

Cat playing with boxes and toys FilippoBacci / Getty Images

You've probably noticed how quickly cats' pupils expand and contract into vertical slits. These pupils adjust faster than humans' eyes do in order to react to sudden changes in lighting. This cat-eye feature helps felines stay honed in on their prey as they wind through changing terrains or from room to room in your home. As their pupils dilate, more light is allowed into the cat's eyes, which improves their ability to see potential prey in low light. When the sun is out, their pupils contract into their well-known vertical shapes to let less light into their eyes. These specialized pupils are one of the cat's most powerful weapons, even if they just use them to swat at moths these days.

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4

Cats are nearsighted

Playful brown British kitten playing with a stick lying upside down on a blue sofa SunRay BRI Cattery RU / Getty Images

Humans can generally see objects as far as 200 feet away. Cats, on the other hand, have a difficult time seeing objects that are more than 20 feet away. However, this is likely less of a fault than a trade-off for the cat: when objects are within that 20-foot distance, cat eyes can pick up on rapid movements much more quickly than human eyes can. This heightened awareness is thanks to faster-refreshing rod cells, which capture outside light to form a visual for your cat's eyes. A cat can see an object most clearly when it is within 2-3 feet in front of the feline's face. Whether it's a mouse in a field or a laser pointer, cats' eyes allow them to capture their target with skill and speed.

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5

Cats communicate with their eyes

Cats sometimes slow-blink to show affection and trust toward humans. yulkapopkova / Getty Images

Dogs have much more animated faces than their feline counterparts; dogs have eyebrows that make it easier for humans to decipher how they're feeling, but cats lack these expressive facial features. To make up for them, they communicate with their eyes. Cats show trust, contentment, and affection toward humans through slow blinking and half-closed eyelids. You can even illicit a slow-blink from your feline friend by initiating one yourself. Simply relax your body (as cats can pick up on your tension and energy) and slow-blink in your cat's direction. He or she may respond if they are feeling content and particularly trusting or affectionate that day.

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Blue-eyed white cats have a greater chance of being deaf than other cats

White fur and blue eyes drastically increase a cat's chances for deafness. Sjale / Getty Images

According to Cornell University, 65-85% of all white cats with blue eyes are deaf. If they only have one blue eye, their chances of being deaf drop to 40%. If the white-furred cat has only one blue eye and is deaf in one ear, the deaf ear will likely be on the same side as the blue eye. This is because the genes that create white fur and blue eyes are connected to the development of the cat's inner ear. It's more likely the cat's inner ear will have degenerated if it has a blue eye. All the more reason to start practicing your slow-blink communication.

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7

Cats have three eyelids

Gray cat WIN-Initiative / Getty Images

In addition to top and bottom eyelids, cats also have a vertical membrane that acts like a third eyelid. You can sometimes see the top of this eyelid under their other eyelids in the corner of the cat's eye, near their nose. This eyelid is called a nictitating membrane and it helps cats wipe away things like pollen and dust from their eyes. However, if you don't see this third eyelid, that's a good thing. When a cat's third eyelid is showing, it often means that they are sick or experiencing a problem with their eyes. Schedule a visit to the vet to see if the cat is ill or experiencing discomfort.

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Cats' glowing eyes help them see better at night

Cats' eyes shine in low light to help them see better at night. Julija Kumpinovica / Getty Images

Cats, and many other species, have eyes that seem to glow in the dark when low light hits them just right. This is due to a reflective surface called the tapetum lucidum that sits behind their eyes' retinas. The purpose of this feature is to reflect light back to the retina. Where human eyes have one chance to register images in lower light, cats' eyes have two chances, thanks to this reflection of light. This helps cats' abilities to see movement at night, which helps them be more efficient hunters. Another fun fact is that cats' eyes reflect different colors than other species' or even cats of different ages.

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9

All kittens have blue eyes

All kittens are born with blue eyes until they're mature enough to produce melanin. GK Hart/Vikki Hart / Getty Images

Every baby kitty starts off with blue eyes before they grow into the color they'll be for the rest of their lives. When the kitten is about 4-6 weeks old, their true eye color will be revealed. The young cats should have their true colors when they're about four months old unless they're blue-eyed cats. This happens because the cells that produce melanin in the eyes haven't matured by the time the kitten is born. Once the kitten gets their eye color, their eyes should stay that color for the rest of their lives. If a cat's eyes change color later on in life, it's a good idea to take her or him in for a check-up at the vet.

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Eye and coat colors are generally not related

Close-up of a three-year old male Ragdoll cat. Natural light. Shallow depth of field. JKristoffersson / Getty Images

Just because a cat has a certain color of fur doesn't mean he or she is more likely to have certain eye colors, except in pure-breds and special situations. White-furred cats have a higher chance for blue eyes, and certain breeds such as Russian blues are likely to have a specific eye color. Aside from the few exceptions, there is very little connection between fur color and eye color. This is because the genes that decide the color of the cat's coat and the genes that decide eye color are not connected. Each cat is unique to herself or himself — all the way down to their eye colors.

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