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Do cats see color?

cat in the garden
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do cats see color? That’s the question on the lips of most pet parents who have a feline friend in their family and the answer may just surprise you. While there’s a common belief floating around that cats are colorblind, the truth is, our furry friends can indeed see color, just not in quite the same way that we can.

Have you ever stood in awe looking at a vivid sunset or a particularly vibrant rainbow? Well, if your kitty is by your side during those times you can rest assured that they’re not being treated to a boring black and white canvas while you take in all those awe-inspiring colors.

It turns out that your cat can see many of the same colors that you can see, but what is different for our feline friends is the spectrum of color available to them. Below we talk you through exactly what colors your kitty can see, whether they can see some better than others and how their vision differs from yours.

Do cats see color?

Although cats don’t enjoy sunsets and rainbows in quite the same way that we do, our little furry friends can see far more than we think they can, although the spectrum of colors on offer is less than that which is available to humans.

Humans and cats have two types of color receptors in their eyes - cones and rods. The cones are responsible for handling what can be seen during the day and our perception of color, whereas rods cover night vision and our peripheral vision, the ability to see out of the corners of our eyes.

The difference between cats and humans is that humans have three cones, which gives us access to the full spectrum of color, while cats only have two cones, which means they’re more limited in which colors they can and can’t see.

What colors can cats see best?

Because they only have two color-detecting cones, cats see predominantly blues and yellows, although they can also pick up on green, gray, black and white. What they can’t see is anything on the red-orange spectrum, which is why laser toys for cats with their red beams aren’t generally the best choice of plaything - your cat is responding to the movement of the light and not the color itself. 

So, how do we know for sure that cats can see certain colors? Well, studies have shown that when asked to discriminate between certain colors in order to get a food reward, cats were able to complete the task successfully, indicating that they are indeed able to see a spectrum of color we didn’t previously believe them to be able to see. 

How does your cat’s vision differ from your vision?

While cats may be at a disadvantage when it comes to the spectrum of color they can see, it’s not all a win for Team Human on the vision front. Although we possess an extra cone, cats have more rods in their retina, which means they have far superior night vision. 

This is enhanced by a structure behind their retina called the tapetum, which acts like a mirror, reflecting light that passes between the rods and the cones, causing their eyes to glow at night and increasing the amount of light they can see. 

Cats also have a slightly wider field of vision than humans, at 200 degrees versus our 180 degrees, and they have less sensitivity to brightness because of the structure of their eyes. 

Ways to protect your cat’s vision

Close up of tabby cat with green eyes

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Now that you know a little bit more about what colors your cat can see and their vision in general, you may be wondering whether there’s anything you can do as a pet parent to help protect their eyesight and the good news is, you can.

Here are a few ways that you can help to keep your pet’s peepers in tip-top shape:

1. Feed them a balanced diet

Making sure your furry friend gets plenty of the best cat food is one of the easiest ways to ensure their vision is being looked after. When shopping for wet or dry cat food, you want to make sure it includes taurine, a key amino acid that is essential for cats.

Taurine plays a critical role in eye health as it keeps the cones in their eyes healthy, without it, these can start to deteriorate and eventually lead to blindness. Be on the lookout for vitamin A as well, which is vital for vision quality, and Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

2. Get plenty of play 

One of the most fun ways to help preserve your kitty’s vision is to indulge in lots of play sessions together using a range of the best cat toys. While laser toys aren’t the easiest toys for your cat to use due to their inability to see red, wind up toys or any toy with movement make for a great choice as these will both stimulate and strengthen your feline friend's vision.

3. Book them in for an eye exam

Yip, just like us humans, our fur babies can benefit from having an annual eye exam where your vet will be able to check for any early signs of vision loss, alongside other potential eye conditions. This is a great way to catch any issues early on and seek the correct course of treatment.

4. Clean their eyes regularly

Cats are meticulous groomers, but there are always areas on their body that they struggle to keep as clean as they’d like them and the eyes tend to be one of those difficult places.

Most cats will get a small amount of discharge, and like us, this can cause little crusts in the corners of their eyes. You can help them keep on top of this by using a soft washcloth dipped in warm water to gently wipe the area clean, starting from the inside corner of the eye and wiping outward.

Kathryn Rosenberg

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past two years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.