Wondering How Well Your Cat Can Actually See in the Dark? Here's the Answer

It seems like cats are always raising the bar with how much they are capable of. Exhibiting some really zany, slightly questionable, behavior? Check! Actually knowing their name and choosing to ignore you? Of course, wouldn't put it past them. Answering when spoken to? Yup, they do that, too. But how about night vision? Can our favorite feline friends see well once the lights go off? We connected to two vet experts to learn more about how well cats can get around in the dark.

Do Cats Have Night Vision?

Not surprisingly, cats can indeed see well at night. "Cats see better in the dark as compared to dogs and humans," said Dr. Maureen Murithi, registered veterinarian and veterinary spokesperson of online pet resource SpiritDog Training. "This makes them natural nocturnal hunters."

Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, BSc, DVM, and veterinary medical advisor for Rover, added that although cats can see well at night, they do need some level of light to do so. "In dim light, cats can actually see better than their human owners can — but they require at least a little bit of light in order to see effectively."

What Makes Cats See Better at Night?

Their ability to see better than humans in darker settings is due to a few factors. For instance, Dr. Greenstein explained that cats have more rods than cones in their eyes, which allows them to absorb more light. "[This] is extremely useful to help pounce on prey, especially at twilight," she said. She also explained that cats have something called a tapetum at the back of their eyes, which is a reflective layer that enhances the amount of light that enters the retina. As it turns out, there is a fun fact associated with this part of a feline's anatomy: "The reason that cats' eyes have a kinda spooky glow in a flash photograph is simply a result of light from the camera flash reflecting off their tapetum!" said Dr. Greenstein.

Dr. Murithi also shared that a cat's eye shape, which includes an elliptical pupil (as opposed to a human or dog's round shape) plays a critical role in allowing them to see better than humans at night. "They open wider, allowing more light to pass through the eye to the retina," said Dr. Murithi. "This gives them better vision in low light."

Overall, cats see pretty well in the dark, but to help them out a bit more Dr. Greenstein suggested setting up some nightlights so that your little furry friends can maneuver around the home in pitch darkness, and removing obstacles and other new objects from their path before bed.