Can Cats See in the Dark?

cat with glowing eyes

Can Cats See in the Dark? Yes, cats can see in the dark, but not in complete darkness.

They have excellent night vision and can see in much lower light levels than humans can.

This ability is due to several adaptations in their eyes that allow them to see well in dim light.

How Do Cats See in the Dark?

Cats have a number of physiological features that enhance their night vision. Here are some of the key adaptations:

  • Tapetum Lucidum: One of the primary reasons cats can see in low light is because of the tapetum lucidum, a layer of tissue located behind the retina. This layer reflects light that passes through the retina back into the eyes, giving the photoreceptors another chance to absorb it. This increases the amount of light available to the photoreceptors, enhancing the cat’s ability to see in dim light.
  • Rod-Dominant Retinas: Cats’ retinas are dominated by rod cells, which are more sensitive to low light than cone cells. Rod cells are responsible for black-and-white vision and work better in low light conditions. This high concentration of rod cells allows cats to detect even the faintest movements in the dark.
  • Large Corneas and Pupils: Cats have larger corneas and pupils relative to their eye size, which allows more light to enter the eye. Their pupils can dilate to a much greater extent than human pupils, maximizing the amount of light that reaches the retina.

Do Cats Have Night Vision?

While cats do not have true night vision that allows them to see in total darkness, they can see in much lower light levels than humans can.

They need only about one-sixth of the light humans need to see.

This ability is particularly useful for their crepuscular hunting habits, as they are most active during dawn and dusk when light levels are low.

Comparing Cat Vision to Human Vision

Humans have more cone cells than rod cells, which allow for better color vision and detail in bright light but not in low light.

Cats, on the other hand, have more rod cells, which enable them to see well in dim light but at the expense of color perception and detail in bright light.

What Colors Do Cats See?

Cats do not see colors as vividly as humans do.

They are thought to see the world primarily in shades of blue and green.

Their vision is similar to that of a human with red-green color blindness.

This means they can distinguish between some colors, but many appear as shades of gray or muted hues.

Color Perception in Cats

  • Blues and Greens: Cats can see blues and greens more distinctly.
  • Reds and Pinks: These colors may appear as gray or a variation of gray to cats.
  • Yellows: Yellows and other similar colors are likely seen as muted or less vibrant.

How This Affects Their Behavior

Cats rely more on their other senses, such as smell and hearing, than on color vision.

Their ability to detect motion and see in low light is far more important for hunting and navigating their environment.

Practical Implications for Cat Owners

Cat playing with moving toy

Understanding your cat’s vision can help you make their environment more comfortable and stimulating:

  • Nighttime Navigation: Ensure that your cat has a safe and well-lit path to navigate at night. While they can see in low light, complete darkness can still be challenging.
  • Playtime and Toys: Choose toys that move and make noise rather than relying on bright colors, as motion and sound are more engaging for cats.
  • Comfort and Security: Provide places for your cat to hide and rest that mimic their natural preference for low-light environments.


Cats can see in the dark much better than humans due to their specialized eye structure, which includes the tapetum lucidum, a higher ratio of rod cells, and larger corneas and pupils.

While they cannot see in complete darkness, they excel in low-light conditions and can detect movement and shapes with ease.

Understanding these aspects of your cat’s vision can help you cater to their needs more effectively.