What Color Makes Cats Go “Meh”? The Shade Cats Struggle to See

Introduction

Cats and humans see color differently from one another. Cats have dichromatic vision, meaning they have two types of color receptor cones in their eyes compared to humans’ trichromatic vision with three cone types. This results in cats having a more limited color perception than humans. The main question explored here is what specific color cats have trouble distinguishing due to their dichromatic vision.

Cats vs. Human Color Vision

Cats and humans see color differently due to differences in the cone cells in their eyes. Humans have three types of cone cells that allow us to perceive red, green, and blue light. This gives us trichromatic color vision that enables us to see the full spectrum of colors.

Cats, on the other hand, only have two types of cone cells – one that detects blue light, and one that detects green light [1]. This means cats have dichromatic color vision. With fewer cone cell types, cats are unable to distinguish between some colors that humans can tell apart easily.

Specifically, cats have a limited ability to perceive red hues, and have difficulty distinguishing between red and green. These colors may appear dull or gray to a cat. However, cats can still see shades of blue and green reasonably well. Their vision is similar to a human with red-green color blindness.

So while humans enjoy a full spectrum of color vision, cats live in a more muted, less vibrant world. Their eyes have evolved for different purposes – like detecting motion and hunting at night – rather than discerning a wide range of colorful details.

Limited Red Sensitivity

Research shows that cats have limited sensitivity to red hues compared to humans. This is because cats lack cone photoreceptor cells in their eyes that are sensitive to red light wavelengths (Source). Humans have three types of cone cells that allow us to see the colors red, green, and blue. Cats, on the other hand, only have two types of cone cells that are sensitive to blue and green light (Source).

Without the cone cells to detect red light wavelengths, the color red appears more grayscale and muted to cats. While cats can still see the color red, it seems filtered or dimmed compared to how humans perceive it. So a bright red toy or object will not appear as vividly red through a cat’s eyes. This is why cats can struggle to distinguish between red and green hues, since red looks very dull and neutral to them.

Overall, the lack of red cone cell receptors causes cats to have limited sensitivity and perception of the color red. Red objects seem more grayscale and muted to cats compared to humans who have dedicated red color vision.

Blue-Green Perception

Cats have more rod cells in their eyes which gives them excellent night vision but makes it difficult to distinguish between blues and greens. Rod cells detect light and dark, shapes and movement but not color. As a result, shades of blue and green appear more gray to cats (The Spruce Pets).

While humans have three types of color cones that allow us to see the full color spectrum, cats have only two – one for blue shades and one for yellow/green shades. With less cone cells, cats see less vibrant color and have trouble differentiating between certain colors that appear similar in their vision. Specifically, cats have difficulty distinguishing between colors on the red-green color spectrum, so reds, oranges, browns, and greens may all appear as shades of gray (Rover).

Trouble Distinguishing Red/Green

Cats have trouble distinguishing certain shades of red and green that look very different to human eyes. This is because cats have only two types of color receptors (cones) in their eyes, making them dichromats. Humans have three types of cones, which allows us to see a wider range of colors.

The two cone types in cats are most sensitive to blue-violet and yellowish-green light. They lack a third cone type that is sensitive to red light, which explains their inability to distinguish some shades of red and green [1]. For example, cats would have difficulty telling apart a red toy and a green toy placed side by side.

This is analogous to the common form of red-green color blindness in humans, where people have difficulty distinguishing between reds, greens, browns, and oranges. Just as color blind humans rely more on brightness and saturation rather than hue to distinguish colors, cats rely on brightness and saturation to see color variances in the red/green range.

While cats can still see variations of red and green, the reds, oranges, browns, and greens that are vivid and distinct to human eyes will appear similar shades of yellowish-green to cats. Their world consists of more muted, unsaturated versions of the colors we see.

Impact on Behavior

A cat’s limited color vision affects various behaviors and preferences. Since cats have trouble distinguishing between red and green, they don’t see ripe red fruits or vegetables as appealing sources of food. Their vision is adapted for finding small prey animals in low light instead of discerning ripe plant foods. This is likely why cats show little interest in fruits and vegetables compared to meat products.

Their sensitivity to blue-green contrasts makes certain toys like feathers or shiny objects stand out more. This is why cat toys often utilize contrasting colors like blue and yellow. Their vision also impacts preferences for litter box colors and bedding materials. Cats tend to prefer darker litter substrates and sleeping areas since these high contrast environments cater to their visual abilities.

When hunting, cats rely more on motion detection than color. Their limited color vision allows them to spot potential prey against green grass or foliage through brightness and contrast instead of color variations. This allows cats to hunt successfully even with reduced color perception. Their ability to see well in low light also assists with finding nocturnal or crepuscular prey effectively.

Overall, cats adapt their key behaviors like feeding, playing, resting, and hunting to align with their unique visual capabilities. While they miss out on the full spectrum of color vision humans enjoy, cats are extremely adept hunters due to evolutionary adaptations that allow them to thrive with limited color perception but excellent night vision and motion sensitivity.

Testing Cat Color Vision

Several studies have tested cat color discrimination ability using methods like food rewards. In one study published in Animal Behaviour, researchers tested cats’ ability to distinguish between blue and green rewards https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27720709/. They trained cats to choose a blue bowl over a green one for a food reward, then evaluated if the cats could still successfully discriminate between bowls when colors were made more similar. The results showed cats could distinguish colors at 510 nm but not colors closer to 505 nm, leading researchers to conclude cats have limited color discrimination in the green-red range.

Another notable 1970 study published in The Journal of Physiology tested cat wavelength discrimination using food rewards https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1395586/. The researchers conditioned cats to press levers for food rewards in response to certain colors. By systematically testing their responses to different wavelengths, the study provided evidence that cats rely on two cone processes centered around 450 nm and 555 nm. This supports the theory that cats are dichromats with limited ability to distinguish red and green.

Caring for Colorblind Cats

Since cats can’t distinguish between red and green as easily, owners of colorblind cats should take some steps to accommodate their limitations:

Choose toys that incorporate high-contrast colors like blue and yellow so they stand out more. Avoid red/green toys or use textures and shapes in addition to color.

Try feeding wet food in a blue or yellow bowl since the color will pop out from the food and background. This can help cats locate and orient towards their food.

When playing with toys like feathers or wands, incorporate more movement to stimulate their prey drive. Rely less on red toys that blend into the background.

Outside, monitor their time exploring since they may struggle differentiating red objects like cars or clothing against green grass. Increase supervision time.

Avoid startling cats by approaching slowly and speaking first before touching. Their limited color vision can make it harder to see humans.

Overall, focus play and care on enhancing scent, textures, sounds, and high visual contrast. This helps engage a colorblind cat’s senses so they can thrive.

Other Colorblind Animals

Cats are not the only animals that have limited color vision compared to humans. Dogs also have trouble distinguishing certain colors like red, green, and orange. This is because dogs, like cats, only have two types of color receptor cones in their eyes, while humans have three. However, there are some differences between dog and cat color vision.

While cats struggle to see red, dogs actually have better red-color perception compared to cats. Dogs are still considered red-green colorblind, but they can distinguish shades of gray better than cats. Cats are also better at discerning blues and greens than dogs. So while neither animal sees the full color spectrum, dogs tend to be a little less colorblind than cats.

Other colorblind animals include horses, bulls, rabbits, rats, and ferrets. Most mammals are dichromats with two color cones like cats and dogs. Birds, fish, and reptiles may have even more types of color cones, giving them a broader range of color vision. Overall, cat color perception is more limited than many animals, but shares similarities with other common pets like dogs.

Conclusion

In summary, cats have notable limitations in their color vision compared to humans. While humans are trichromats and can perceive the full spectrum of color, cats are dichromats and can only see blue and green wavelengths well. This is because cats lack cone photoreceptor cells that are sensitive to red light. As a result, cats have trouble distinguishing between red and green shades, and red objects can appear dark or gray to them.

This difference in color perception impacts cat behavior. It may make it harder for cats to spot red toys or food items, detect ripe fruit, or see certain warnings and threats that are colored red. However, cats evolved excellent night vision and motion detection, which likely minimized the need for trichromatic color vision. Their vision is still adapted well to their environment and needs.

Understanding cat colorblindness allows us to better provide for our feline companions. We can choose toys, bedding, litter boxes, and food bowls in colors cats can see well. We can also make sure to use other cues like smell and sound to compensate for their color limitations. With some simple adjustments, we can support healthy, enriched lives for even colorblind cats.

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