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Can Cats See Color? 

baby cat with green eyes laying upside-down

If you’re a cat parent, you’ve probably wondered what the world looks like through your feline friend’s eyes. Can your cat appreciate the vibrant hues of a sunset or the rich colors of a rainbow? Or are they viewing the world in shades of gray? 

These are common questions, and it’s not surprising why they arise. After all, understanding our pets’ perception of the world can help us relate to them better and cater to their needs more effectively. 

This article explores the fascinating topic of color perception in cats based on scientific evidence and research, not mere anecdotal assumptions.

Understanding the Feline Visual System

A cat’s eyes are truly marvelous pieces of natural engineering, but they work quite differently than our own. To understand whether cats can see color, we first need to delve into the anatomy and functioning of the feline visual system.

Cats’ eyes are structured to support their lifestyle as crepuscular creatures, active mostly during dawn and dusk. They have more rods — the light-sensitive cells in the retina that help see in low light — than humans. 

This makes them excellent at detecting movement and navigating in dim lighting. What about color? 

That’s where the other type of light-sensitive cells (cones) come into play. In humans, three types of cones allow us to see a wide spectrum of colors. Cats, however, have just two types of cone cells, similar to a human with red-green color blindness.

This difference in the number of cone types indicates that cats’ color vision is likely different from ours, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they see the world in black and white. To fully understand the colors cats can perceive, we need to delve deeper into the color spectrum cats can see and how it compares to humans.

Stay tuned as we navigate the captivating world of feline vision, backed by scientific evidence, providing you, the dedicated pet parent, with a comprehensive understanding of your furry friend’s sight.

What Colors Can Cats See?

Building on our understanding of feline eye anatomy, we can now start to unveil the color spectrum that cats can likely perceive. 

It’s commonly understood that cats see the world differently than humans due to the unique structure and function of their eyes. But the question remains: What colors can cats see?

The human eye has three types of cones that perceive red, green, and blue. However, as mentioned before, cats only have two types of cones, which are thought to be most sensitive to blue and yellow hues. 

Therefore, scientists believe that cats see the world in shades of blue and yellow but likely can’t distinguish red, green, or possibly even purple colors. This theory is supported by various scientific studies, including a foundational study from 1970 that suggested cats respond to blue and yellow light but show little to no response to red light.

While cats may not perceive the full rainbow of colors that humans can, their vision is not simply grayscale. They see a version of the world that, while different, is just as interesting as our own.

How Does Cats’ Vision Affect Their Behavior?

The unique color perception of cats doesn’t just affect how they see the world but also their behavior. And understanding these behaviors can help us make choices that better cater to our furry friends’ needs.

Cats have evolved to be excellent hunters; their heightened ability to detect movement and subtle changes in light could be more important than distinguishing between different colors. This might explain why your cat can’t resist pouncing on a fast-moving toy, regardless of color.

Additionally, a cat’s limited color vision may impact smaller decisions in their daily lives, such as selecting toys or food dishes. If cats can perceive blue and yellow better than other colors, they may be more attracted to items of these colors.

This is why many cat foods and treats are colored yellow. 

Research into the exact link between color perception and feline behavior is ongoing. However, it’s clear that understanding our cats’ unique vision can help us make more informed choices as pet parents, from picking the most engaging toys to setting up a living environment that caters to their visual strengths.

So, consider their perspective the next time you shop for your cat. It might make their day more colorful — in a way they can truly appreciate.

Should I Buy Toys In the Colors My Cat Can See?

Understanding your cat’s unique color vision can greatly enhance their playtime, making it more engaging and enriching. Toys aren’t simply sources of entertainment for our feline friends; they contribute significantly to their physical health, mental stimulation, and overall well-being. 

How can we, as pet parents, use our knowledge of feline color vision to choose the right toys?

Since cats are believed to see best in shades of blue and yellow, choosing toys in these colors could enhance their visibility and make playtime more exciting for your cat. The vividness of these toys against different backgrounds might be more apparent to your cat’s eyes, stimulating their natural predatory instincts and making the chase all the more enticing.

However, it’s crucial to remember that while color can play a part, other factors are equally, if not more, important in toy selection. Cats are primarily drawn to movement, so toys that wiggle, bounce, or roll can be particularly engaging. Texture and size also matter, as cats prefer soft and small toys to bat around easily.

Regularly rotating toys is essential to keep your cat’s interest piqued. Just like humans, cats can get bored with the same old toys. Introducing new playthings from time to time can bring novelty and excitement into their routine.

While color can be a factor in choosing toys for your feline friend, the most successful toys often mimic their natural hunting behaviors. Understanding your cat’s color perception adds another layer of thoughtfulness to your choices, ensuring you’re tailoring playtime to their unique visual world. 

In doing so, you enrich their environment and deepen your bond with your furry friend, making playtime a highlight of their day — and yours!

What Are Some Misconceptions About Cats and Color Vision?

The world of pet parenthood is rife with myths and misconceptions, and color vision in cats is no exception. 

One common myth is that cats are completely colorblind, seeing the world only in shades of gray. However, as we have discussed, scientific evidence points to cats having a more limited range of color perception, not a total absence of color. They likely perceive the world in shades of blue and yellow but cannot distinguish between red and green.

Another misconception is that cats’ color vision is less important than their ability to see in the dark or detect movement. While these capabilities certainly aid in their predatory prowess, their color vision plays a role in their daily lives as well, impacting everything from how they interact with toys to their navigation of the world.

The absence of light does cause objects to appear black and white. You can play around with this at home, turning off the light and allowing your vision to adjust, and see just how color-lacking the world appears. Then, turn on a flashlight, illuminate the objects around you, and see the big difference. 

Acknowledging these misconceptions can replace myths with evidence-based understanding, enhancing our relationship with our feline friends.

Make the World Brighter for Your Cat

The world seen through a cat’s eyes is likely full of fascinating hues and nuances quite different from our own perceptions. 

The same mindset can be used when choosing colors for your pup. With a similar color vision to cats, toys that are yellow, orange, red, or within the same side of the color wheel are known to spark their interest and excitement. 

While they might not enjoy the full spectrum of colors that humans do, their unique vision aids in their survival and daily life. Understanding this vision can enhance our relationships with our feline friends, allowing us to cater to their needs more effectively.

The question, “Can cats see color?” opens the door to a world of scientific exploration and evidence-based discovery. It underscores that our feline friends are unique creatures with fascinating sensory capabilities, reminding us that there is always more to learn about them.

As we continue to explore the captivating world of feline vision and other aspects of pet health, we invite you to delve deeper with ElleVet, where we are committed to providing pet parents with comprehensive, research-driven information. After all, the more we understand our pets, the better we can provide them with a life full of color — in the way they see it.


What Is a Crepuscular Animal? | Treehugger

Cones | American Academy of Ophthalmology

Cat color vision: evidence for more than one cone process | PMC

Can Dogs See Color? | American Kennel Club