The Colorful Truth. Why Your Cat Can’t See All the Colors You Do

Introduction

Cats have a reputation for having excellent vision and sensing abilities. However, when it comes to seeing color, cats have some limitations compared to humans. While cats can see some colors, their vision is more restricted to shades of blue, gray, and yellow. Understanding cats’ color blindness provides insight into their visual capabilities and how they experience the world around them.

Cats Have Fewer Color Receptors

Humans have three types of color receptors, called cone cells, that allow us to see the full spectrum of colors – red, green, and blue. Cats, on the other hand, only have two types of cone cells – one for blue and one for green (VCAAnimal Hospitals). This means cats have dichromatic vision, while humans have trichromatic vision.

The three cone cells in humans allow us to see the full range of colors by absorbing light at short (blue), medium (green), and long (red) wavelengths. With only two cone cells, cats are essentially colorblind to colors that stimulate the red cone in humans.

So while humans see the world in millions of different colors, cats have a more limited color palette made up of various shades of blue and green. This difference in receptors means cats do not see color the same way people do.

Cats See More Blue/Green

Compared to humans, cats have more rods than cones in their eyes. Rods detect light and motion, while cones detect color. This allows cats to see well in low light conditions, but also means they don’t see color as vividly as humans.

Studies using electroretinography show that cats are most sensitive to blue-green wavelengths of light. Their eyes have peak sensitivities at wavelengths around 450-500 nanometers, which corresponds to shades of blue and green. This indicates cats likely see these cool colors more intensely than warm colors like red or orange.

As researchers from Business Insider explain, “Their world consists of more grays and blues than vivid color.” So while cats don’t see the full spectrum of colors humans do, their vision is well adapted to their needs as crepuscular hunters.

Cats Confuse Red/Green

Cats have a limited ability to distinguish between colors in the red and green spectrum. This is because they have fewer cone photoreceptor cells in their eyes responsible for detecting color compared to humans. Cats only have two types of these cone cells, tuned to blue and green wavelengths of light (Purina, n.d.). They lack cone cells that are more sensitive to red light.

This means that cats see reds and greens as similar shades of green or gray. So red and green objects appear indistinguishable or faded to cats (Color Meanings, 2022). For example, a red toy and a green toy may look identical from a cat’s perspective. This type of color blindness is called deuteranomaly or protanomaly.

Cats Rely On Movement

While humans rely primarily on color vision, cats see the world very differently. A cat’s vision prioritizes motion detection over color. Cats have a high density of rods in their eyes, which are the receptors responsible for low light vision and movement detection. This gives cats superior night vision and ability to detect the slightest motion, even in near total darkness (Do Cats See Color? – VCA Animal Hospitals).

In fact, the area of a cat’s central vision that enables detailed focus only sees color shades of blue and green. The rest of its vision perceives color poorly. This means cats rely more on identifying objects by their movement patterns rather than color. So motion is far more important than vibrancy for feline eyesight (What Colors Can Cats See?).

Tests Show Cat Color Perception

Scientists have conducted multiple experiments to test cat color perception. In one study, researchers trained cats to choose between two colored objects to get a food reward. The cats could reliably distinguish between blue and green objects. However, they struggled to differentiate between red and green objects, often confusing the two colors.

In another experiment, cats were trained to pick out colored objects against similarly colored backgrounds. Cats could identify blue or yellow objects against blue or yellow backgrounds without issue. But they had trouble finding red objects on red backgrounds. The results indicated cats can see blue and green, but red looks similar to green and is harder to distinguish.

These reward-based tests demonstrate that cats have limited color perception compared to humans. Their vision focuses more on shades of blue and green. While cats can see red, they tend to confuse it with green. The experiments help explain common cat behaviors involving color.

Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/CatAdvice/comments/17e13kx/i_just_found_out_that_cats_cannot_see_the_color/

Limited Color Doesn’t Impair Cats

While cats do not see the full spectrum of colors that humans can, their vision is well-adapted for their needs as an ambush predator. Cats rely more on detecting movement and have excellent night vision compared to humans. In fact, cats need 6-8 times less light to see than humans do (vcahospitals.com). Their eyes contain a reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum, allowing light to pass through the retina twice, providing additional sensitivity.

Since cats are crepuscular and do much of their hunting at dawn or dusk, their vision is optimized to detect prey during low light conditions. Their eyes have a high density of rod receptors which are sensitive to dim light. The trade-off is that they have fewer cone receptors for detecting color. However, the limited color perception does not impair their ability to effectively hunt their prey. Cats rely on excellent motion detection and a wider field of view to detect and ambush unsuspecting animals.

Cats Utilize Other Senses

Although cats have limited color vision compared to humans, they rely heavily on their other senses to hunt and navigate the world around them. Their sense of smell in particular is highly developed. Cats have nearly 200 million odor-sensitive cells in their noses, far more than humans. This gives them a detailed “smellscape” to follow scents and detect prey 1. Their sense of hearing is also excellent, able to detect frequencies up to two octaves higher than humans. This allows cats to hear the high-pitched sounds made by rodents and other small animals. Cats also utilize their whiskers (vibrissae) to detect subtle air currents and vibrations around them while hunting. So while cats may not see the full spectrum of colors, their powerful non-visual senses compensate and enable them to be effective predators.

Human vs. Cat Color Spectrum

Cats have a more limited color spectrum than humans. The human eye has three color receptors (called cones) that allow us to see red, green and blue light. This gives humans trichromatic vision and allows us to see the full range of colors in the rainbow.

Cats, on the other hand, only have two types of cones – one for blue light and one for green light. They lack the photoreceptor for seeing red light. This gives cats dichromatic vision. They have a reduced ability to distinguish between reds, greens and oranges.

Scientists have estimated that cats see something akin to severe red-green color blindness in humans. While humans see the full spectrum of colors from red to violet, cats can only see the colors from greenish-blue to yellow. This has sometimes been described as seeing the world in shades of blue and yellow.

Studies mapping cat and human photoreceptors show distinctly different sensitivities. Humans have very sensitive red cones, while cats have none. Cats have a peak sensitivity in the blue-green range which is much reduced in humans. So cats effectively live in a more blue-green world.

While cats miss out on seeing the full richness of color, their vision is well adapted to their needs as a predator. Their limited color perception does not impair their ability to hunt, navigate and thrive in their environment.

Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/pictures-of-how-cats-see-the-world-2013-10

Conclusion

In summary, we know cats are color blind compared to humans due to multiple lines of evidence:

Cats only have two types of color receptors in their eyes compared to three in humans, making them similar to human red-green color blind patients (Cats.com). This lack of receptors limits their color perception.

Tests show cats have trouble distinguishing between red and green hues, often confusing the two colors. Their vision is biased towards blue and green wavelengths (Eyeque).

While limited color vision doesn’t impair cats from being effective predators, they rely more heavily on their other senses like hearing and smell (Quora). Their worldview is distinctly different than our vivid, multi-colored human vision.

Though cats aren’t fully color blind, their more muted color spectrum provides key evidence that their visual perception differs from humans in significant ways.

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