Do Cats See Themselves in Color? The Surprising Truth About Feline Vision


The question of whether cats know their own color is an intriguing one for cat owners and animal behavior researchers alike. At first glance it may seem obvious – of course cats don’t comprehend the concept of color. But the capacity of cats to recognize identities and differences in their surroundings suggests their visual perception may be more complex.

This article will examine what science tells us about feline vision, cats’ capacity for self-recognition, their ability to distinguish between objects and individuals, and what these animal behaviors reveal about cats’ potential awareness of their own coloration. With dichromatic vision capable of perceiving some colors and an advanced awareness of their environment, there are indications cats may have some recognition of their own colors and patterns. But more research is needed for definitive answers.

Cats Have Dichromatic Vision

Cats have dichromatic vision, meaning they have two types of color receptors (cones) in their eyes compared to humans who have three. This results in cats seeing a more limited range of colors than humans. Specifically, cats can see blue and green shades clearly, but reds and oranges appear more green, while purple looks like another shade of blue. This is because cats lack receptors for red light [1].

The feline eye has a structure dominated by rod receptors, which aid vision in dim light. But the tradeoff is fewer cone receptors compared to humans, limiting cats’ color perception [2]. So while cats do see some colors, their worldview is much less colorful than our vivid human vision.

Cats Can Distinguish Colors

While cats don’t see color as vividly as humans do, research shows that they can distinguish between certain colors, especially blue and red. According to studies, cats have dichromatic vision, meaning they have two types of color receptors (cones) in their eyes – one for blue and one for green/yellow wavelengths of light (Source). This is different from human trichromatic vision which allows us to see the full color spectrum.

Scientists have tested cats’ ability to distinguish colors using reward-based experiments. One study found that cats could reliably tell the difference between blue and red light, suggesting they do perceive color, just in a more limited way compared to humans. While cats likely can’t distinguish between subtly different shades, they can differentiate between more contrasting hues in the blue to red range (Source).

So while cats may not experience the same rainbow of colors we see, they are not completely colorblind. Their vision allows them to pick out certain chromatic contrasts, especially the difference between red and blue.

Cats Use Scent Over Vision

Cats rely heavily on their sense of smell and use scent over vision for many important functions. According to a University of Illinois study, animals with longer noses, like cats, prioritize scent over vision for identification purposes ( Cats have a powerful olfactory system that allows them to gather a wealth of information from smells in their environment. Their sense of smell is 14 times more sensitive than that of humans.

Because cats depend so much on scent cues, their vision is less critical for navigation and spatial awareness. Cats have excellent night vision due to a reflective layer behind their retinas, but their overall visual acuity is less than that of humans. Cats see detail best when objects are within about 20 feet. Their peripheral vision is good, but they have poor depth perception due to placement of their eyes.

When hunting or exploring, cats use their expert nose to follow prey trails and identify food sources, territory boundaries, and the scent signals of other cats. Scent allows cats to recognize familiar humans and other animals. Scent also enables territory marking through urine spraying and depositing scent glands around their environment. For cats, the nose knows more than the eyes.

Cats Recognize Individual Humans

Recent studies have shown that cats are able to recognize their human owners through visual, auditory and olfactory cues. According to a study published in Animal Cognition and discussed on Reddit (, cats are able to recognize their owners’ voices. When played recordings of their owners’ voices, the cats responded more positively and showed more interest compared to recordings of strangers’ voices.

Cats are also able to recognize their owners by sight. They can differentiate between their owners’ faces and those of strangers. According to an article by Senior Cat Wellness (, cats recognize their owners by subtle facial features and expressions. Though their vision is dichromatic, they can still distinguish individual humans.

A cat’s sense of smell also allows them to recognize their owners. Each human has a unique scent profile, which cats can memorize. Cats sniff owners to gather olfactory cues and confirm their identity. Once cats have spent enough time with their human, they can recognize them by smell alone.

Cats May Recognize Themselves in Mirrors

Some studies show that cats can identify themselves in mirrors. This ability indicates self-awareness, which is a complex cognitive process. In one study published in Animal Cognition, cats were exposed to mirrored surfaces for 2 weeks before being tested. The cats showed interest in the mirror at first, but then began ignoring their reflection, suggesting they understood it was themselves they were seeing.

In the test, a colored mark was placed on the cat in a location that could only be seen in the mirror. When the cats looked in the mirror after, they turned their heads or bodies to focus on the new mark, touching it with their paws. This suggested the cats recognized their reflection and noticed the change. According to the researchers, this response shows evidence of visual self-recognition and self-awareness in cats.

However, some experts debate these findings, arguing more conclusive evidence is needed. Critics point out issues like the marks possibly causing sensation on the cat’s skin that attracted their attention. More research is still needed to fully confirm feline self-recognition abilities. But initial studies suggest cats may understand their reflected image is of themselves.

Cats Respond to Their Names

Research shows that cats do indeed recognize and respond to their own names. A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that cats reacted more strongly when their owners called their names, compared to when their owners said nouns of a similar length and accent pattern [1]. The cats’ ears and heads moved more in response to their names being called, indicating that they distinguished their names from other words.

On Reddit, many cat owners share stories about their cats responding when called by name. One user says two of their three cats come when called, including the cat they’ve had for the longest time and the cat they’ve had for the shortest time [2]. So cats can learn their names and respond to them relatively quickly.

However, cats may not come running immediately when called. As an NPR article discusses, they recognize their names but may choose not to respond if they’re comfortable or busy with another activity [3]. Still, research indicates cats do know their own names, even if they don’t always come when called.

Cats Have Territory Awareness

Cats are highly territorial creatures that possess an awareness of their home territory boundaries (Four Paws, n.d.). A cat’s territory provides them with the resources they need to survive, including food, water, shelter, and a place to raise kittens if they are female. Cats will patrol and mark the edges of their territory with scent markers like rubbing their face on objects or spraying urine (OSU Indoor Pet Initiative, n.d.).

A cat’s territory can range from a few houses or yards to several square miles, depending on if they are indoor or outdoor cats (Sure Petcare, 2015). Indoor cats have a smaller territory consisting of the home they live in. They know which rooms, furniture, and areas belong to them and often return to these same spots repeatedly throughout the day.

Outdoor and feral cats patrol a much larger territory that can expand over several blocks or miles. They use their excellent memory to remember the complex layout of their territory and will investigate any changes or unfamiliar smells (OSU Indoor Pet Initiative, n.d.). Understanding a cat’s territorial nature can help owners provide a stable home environment and prevent stress.


In summary, cats have dichromatic vision which means they can see limited colors compared to humans. Specifically, cats can distinguish between colors in the blue to green range but have trouble with reds and greens. While cats rely more on scent than vision, research shows they can identify individual humans, recognize their names, perceive territory boundaries, and potentially recognize themselves in mirrors. Cats’ vision abilities allow them to navigate their environments effectively. However, their world appears more muted to them than the vibrant colors humans perceive. Understanding cats’ visual capabilities provides insight into their behaviors and needs as pets.


Zawistowski, S. (2008). Companion Animals in Society. Cengage Learning.

Mejia, L. (2022). Do Cats Know Their Own Eye Color? The Surprising Truth. The Spruce Pets.

Geneser, F. (2003). The Cat: Its Behavior, Nutrition and Health. Wiley-Blackwell.

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