You have your favorite color and enjoy it scattered throughout your house, but does your cat appreciate your color choice? Do they even see color? If so, how do they see colors, and how does it differ from what colors humans see?
Cats see colors with the same nerve cells humans have, known as rods and cones in the eyes. However, cats don’t have as many cones for the color vision that humans have, which means that they don’t see as many color variations as humans do. Cats have better night vision than humans as a trade-off.
Cats can see colors, but they don’t have the same appreciation for color as humans do. If you want to know more about your feline buddy’s color vision, keep reading.
Cats’ Color Vision vs. Humans’ Color Vision: What’s the Difference?
Humans can see a full range of colors but at a narrower vision range. However, cats have a wider field of vision but see fewer colors. They also have better depth perception because their eyes face forward and rarely go to the side like humans’ eyes do.
Still, just because cats can’t see the full range of colors that humans see, that doesn’t mean that they only see in black and white. They can differentiate between red and green, and they see variations of blue, but the colors are not as deep for them as they are for humans.
The colors that humans see are enhanced compared to cats because human eyes have ten times the color cones that cats have, and it makes a big difference in how we perceive colors. While we can see an entire rainbow of colors clearly, cats can see a muted version of the rainbow. Additionally, the bright oranges and yellows are not the same in cat vision as it is in human vision.
What Colors Do Cats See?
As mentioned already, cats see reds, greens, blues, and violets, but fewer color cones in their eyes allow them to see muted colors. While we can see bright neon-like colors, those same colors to cats would be very dull and, perhaps, very similar in colors. For example, a neon pink might appear as white or violet. Neon green would be a dull green for a cat.
However, some experts hypothesize that reds and greens appear more like shades of blue to cats. Purple might even look blue to cats, even though this is disputed. Other experts believe cats’ color vision is limited to blues and grays. The dispute comes from two schools of thought where one says that cats’ color vision is the same as for dogs’ color vision, but the other says that cats only see certain colors.
The hues that we can see are either muted or not there for cats, despite the varying opinions on this topic.
While cats cannot see the wide range of color that we can, they have more rods in their retinas that allow them to see better than humans in low light conditions, which will be discussed further later in this article. Cats’ eyes can move further to each side, allowing them to have a wider vision range than humans.
Does this mean that cats have a favorite color? Even more important, do cats gravitate to toys in their favorite color? While this will be discussed later, cats don’t have one color that they like. Instead, they prefer toys that move, make noise, and shine while moving.
What Allows Cats and Humans to See Colors?
Most mammals have certain nerve cells in their eyes that allow them to see colors. These cells are called rods and cones, and the number of cones in the retina determines how bright or dull the colors appear to the person or creature. Generally, humans have more cones in their retinas than cats do, which means that cats see muted colors and a narrower color range than we do.
Both cats and humans have three types of cones to detect colors, but the number of cones is more prevalent in humans. These cones allow cats to see combinations of colors within the primary color wheel, such as blues and reds. Cats, however, cannot see reds or yellows as humans can. Most reds and yellows might appear as blues and greens to them.
However, rods allow the eyes to detect motion while being more sensitive to light. Cats have more rods, which allow them to see better in low light conditions. They can also detect the slightest motion, like a small bug crawling on the floor or ceiling. This ability evolved in wild cats to allow them to hunt in the dawn or dusk hours when it is cooler in the desert.
One disadvantage of not having the same number of cones in their retinas is that they are nearsighted and can see only 20 feet (6 meters) away at all times.
What Is the Trade-Off for Cats’ Color Vision?
Can cats see at night like they can during the day? No, but because cats have more rods in their retinas than humans do, they can see better in lower light and detect the slightest motion in that lower light.
As mentioned already, cats evolved to hunt at dusk and dawn when the weather is cooler. That is the time when their prey would be out, eating and drinking. Wild cats hunt during this time for maximum success.
However, seeing in lower light is the trade-off for not seeing as many bright colors. Humans have more cones that allow them to see more motion in bright lights, but since cats have more rods, they have better low-light vision.
In the species’ evolution, cats needed better vision during dawn and dusk conditions, while humans needed better bright light conditions to hunt during the day. Also, seeing a broad color spectrum allowed humans to detect subtle color changes from large prey like bison or deer.
Do Cats Care About Colors as Humans Do?
Do cats have a favorite color? Not likely, since they don’t see colors that well. Instead, cats prefer smells or toys that move and make crinkly noises, which appeals to their finely tuned hunting senses. The bright red dot on a laser pointer doesn’t matter to cats that it’s red. All that matters is that it moves, and it’s impossible to catch.
Their favorite plastic spring toy doesn’t need to be a specific color; it only needs to move and be fun to play with and hunt. Crinkly toys don’t need to be any color for cats to have fun. They only need to sound fun, like a mouse in a hole or a rabbit under a bunch of leaves.
Humans have favorite colors only because we can see a wide color spectrum and appreciate the sun’s beauty or an impromptu rainbow.
If you want to appeal to your cat’s senses, find a toy that smells like catnip, is crinkly, and moves like a small animal. Your cat will enjoy this type of toy more than any number of colors.
Rod and cone cells make up color vision in all animals, including cats, but cats only have a partial view of the color world. If you want to play with your cat, it doesn’t matter what color the toy is. All that matters is that you’re giving it attention.
What they lack in color and distance vision they make up for in their sense of smell. They can detect illnesses and chemicals that humans cannot detect. They know when another cat is close to death, and they know when something is coming in the weather patterns.