Do cats see in the dark?

Cats are excellent hunters. Stray cats also have the inclination to rummage in trash cans. Even well fed pets tend to steal food. Cats usually hunt, scavenge and steal food at night. People are amazed at the cat’s ability to unerringly find the prey or to scavenge food even in the dark. This is why it is commonly believed that cats can see in the dark. This theory though is not true. Cats have excellent night vision but just like humans, cats cannot see in total darkness.

There are quite a number of myths surrounding cat’s vision. Despite domestication, cats have remained mysterious animals. Cats are believed to have the ability to see entities that are not seen by human eyes. It was once thought that cats only see in black and white. Because cats do not go bumping in the night it was thought that the glowing eyes of these animals allow them to see in the dark. Scientist have not given any explanation on the pet owners’ claim that cats can see ghosts and spirits but recent studies have proven that cats can see color. Studies have also shown that cats have excellent night vision but these animals do not have the capability to see in total darkness.

The structure of cats’ eyes is not too different from human eyes. However, cats can control the brightness of the light that will enter the eyes. If you look at the cat’s eyes you would notice the very large pupils. The pupil dilates and contracts but unlike the pupil in human eyes that stays round during dilation or contraction, a cat’s pupil can contract and dilate in vertical slits. This vertical slit gets bigger to let in more light and becomes smaller to lessen the amount of light that will enter the eyes. At night or in darkened areas, the cat’s pupil would become big. In humans, the muscle that controls the pupil is the circular ciliary muscle while in cats the pupil is controlled by elliptical ciliary muscle. Cats have large eyes thus these muscles’ function of allowing or preventing light to enter the eyes is maximized.

The glowing eye of a cat is one of the reasons why it is perceived as mysterious animals. In ancient Egypt, cats were revered animals because their eyes are believed to keep the glow of the sun when it sets. Scientists have explained the “glow” in the cat’s eyes. The glow is caused by the mirror-like cells within the eyes called tapetum lucidum. Cats’ eyes have photoreceptors cells. Cones are color sensitive and rods are designed to function best in dim lights. A cat’s eye is rod-rich. Because of the tapetum lucidum and the larger number of rods in the cat’s eyes, these furry friends can see with only 1/6 of the light illumination humans need to see. In humans, if the light that enters the eyes misses hitting a rod, it will be absorbed by the retina’s black layer. In cats, the light that enters the eyes and misses a rod will be bounced or reflected by the tapetum lucidum until it hits a rod. As cats have more rods in their eyes the chance that the light will hit a rod is great. The reflected light allows the cat to see even if the illumination is very low. The structure of the eyes as well as the functions of its parts is the reason why cats have better night vision. Cats are nocturnal hunters and they have a specialized night vision. The smallest glimmer of light would allow these animals to navigate but just like humans, cats cannot see in total darkness.