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A Cat’s Eyes Reflect More Than the Light

black cat's eyes glowing in the dark

A cat’s eyes are one of the most admired traits of our feline friends. They come in a variety of beautiful jewel tones and can reflect the mood of your cat by the way the pupils expand and contract. But a cat’s eyes are much more powerful than that – they are one of the most sensitive and crucial sensory organs felines possess. The pupils of a cat can contract to mere slits or open up so that they temporarily appear to be all pupil with no surrounding iris. This ability to change the shape of the iris makes a cat’s eyes more compelling to look into than a dog’s eyes, which stay essentially the same regardless of mood or surroundings.

The Visual Advantages of a Cat’s Eyes

Because cats are most active in the early morning and at dusk, when natural light is dim, their eyes are designed to help them see very clearly in low light. They have nearly eight times the amount of rods (light detecting cells) in their eyes than humans. This means they can see in low light nearly seven times as much as we can.

In the back of a cat’s eyes there is also a thin, reflective membrane called the tapetum that reflects light back into the cat’s eyes, increasing the amount of light so that the cat can see more clearly. If you’ve ever seen your cat’s eyes shining in the night, you were actually seeing reflected light that bounced off this membrane.

Cats have a wider field of vision than humans; they can see 200 degrees when looking forward, giving them great peripheral vision. This is one reason why it’s so difficult to sneak up on or surprise a cat. This comes at a cost, however. Humans can see what is directly in front of them much more clearly than felines can.

The Advantages of Vertical Pupils

cat's eye with pupil slit

Vertical pupils help cats’ eyes judge distance with great accuracy.

While this ability to process images in low light conditions makes cats excellent hunters in low light situations, it also tends to blur the outlines of objects. The pupils help cats overcome this visual deficit. Cats have vertical pupils similar to those found in nocturnal animals such as foxes and crocodiles. Vertical pupils help minimize the blurriness of objects and help cats judge distance with unusual accuracy.

Limited Color Viewing

While a cat’s eyes have many advantages over human eyesight, there is one area in which they fall short. They can’t really distinguish much difference between shades of red, orange and yellow. They can, however, tell the difference between primary colors (red, blue and yellow) and various shades at the blue-green end of the color spectrum. Cat’s eyes also see ultraviolet light, which is invisible to human eyes.

How a Cat’s Eyes Mirror His Emotions

The eyes of a cat don’t just help them see exceptionally well, they can also mirror his emotions. Any time you see your cat’s eyes narrow down to slits, you can assume something has aroused their attention, whether in a good way (cat treats) or a bad way (fear of something new). In order to establish dominance in a situation, a cat will focus an unblinking stare on his adversary. Your cat’s eyes can also indicate trust if they are relaxed with wider pupils and a sleepy look. If your pet looks at you with this open gaze and then slowly blinks at you, he is expressing his affection. You might want to blink back the next time your cat blinks at you to show your love in return.

cat's eye glasses on a beautiful woman

cat’s eye glasses

A Cat’s Eyes in Culture

Various cultures have been mesmerized by the haunting appeal of cats’ eyes down through the ages. As far back as ancient Egypt, women have applied cat’s eye makeup to mimic the almond-shaped eyes of the cats they revered. Some of the most prized marbles for collectors of these nostalgic glass orbs are referred to as cat’s eyes for the ribbon of color running through them that resembles the slit-shaped pupils of felines. In the 1950’s, cat’s eye glasses became all the rage for women and are currently seeing a resurgence in interest. It seems obvious that the hypnotic beauty of a cat’s eyes will always fascinate us.


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