It’s the perfect marriage of style and substance. Not only are your cat’s eyes two of the most remarkable features of His Serene Loveliness, they’re incredibly functional too. Here’s what you need to know about feline vision.
Cat’s eyes are synonymous with nocturnal vision – so much so, we named our road reflectors after them. So how does this work?
There are a few important elements involved in helping your cat become the perfect nighttime predator. First, their eyes are big in relation to the skull and placed wide apart, so they can perceive a wider field of vision.
Next, they can see in very low light. Two reasons: there is a special layer of mirror-like cells beneath the retina called the tapetum lucidum, which bounces light onto the retina, and it’s why your cat’s eyes seem to shine uncannily. Plus, their strange, elliptical pupils can grow bigger than round ones to let more light in.
So what’s in a cat’s eye? A lot of it is quite familiar to us: the pupil, which is the black opening at the centre, the iris, the muscle that gives the eye its colour, the cornea, which is the whole, clear front part, the sclera which is the white of the eye and of course the lens, which sits behind the iris and focuses and refracts light onto the retina at the back.
But here’s a new one on us humans – the third eyelid. This is the white or transparent inner eyelid, sometimes called the “nictitating membrane”. Its job is to remove debris from the surface of the eye and provides tears. It’s also why a cat doesn’t need to blink regularly like we do. You can sometimes see it if a cat is sleepy or sick. If you can always see it, you need to contact a vet.
Here’s another: the ultra-sensitive whiskers above a cat’s eye. They’re there to protect your cat’s eye from damage. Try this test: touch one. You’ll see your cat’s eyes automatically blink.
Cats’ eyes come in a range of hues. While all kittens are born with blue eyes, they change around eight to 12 weeks into orange, green, brown or yellow. Or they stay blue. A few cats have odd matches, such as one blue and one yellow.
Like dogs, cats seem to have a reduced sense of colour than us. They can distinguish between red, blue and yellow, though they tend to discern blues and violets better than reds.
Being a feline companion, you are probably well aware of what your cat’s telling you. Here’s a quick guide to their eye language if you’re unsure:
- Wide open – Large pupils tend to signify emotional arousal, whether it’s fear or excitement. They could also be indicating trust.
- Slow blinking – This usually means your cat’s pretty comfy and feeling affectionate. Try doing it back, looking sleepy.
- Slitty pupils – You know it isn’t good. Generally, your cat’s trying to tell you he’s feeling aggressive or frightened. Try to avoid locking gazes in this situation or at all with an unfamiliar cat. Turn their aggression into play with toys.
- Unblinking stare – Cats don’t have to blink like we do. Be guided by their other body language as to whether your cat is watchful or sleepy.
Keep an eye out
There are lots of problems that can affect a cat’s eyes. Here are a few symptoms to watch for:
- Cloudy eyes
- Different sized pupils
- Pain or inflammation
- excessive tearing or discharge
- Film over the eye
- Pawing or rubbing
- Swelling, bulging or sunken eyes
- Unusual squinting
- Strange lumps and bumps
What to do
Worried about your cat’s eyes or vision? There are lots of possible causes and it’s unwise to try and diagnose it yourself. Talk to your vet immediately.
Dr Lisa says..
- Cat’s eyes are designed for nocturnal hunting
- Third eyelid means they don’t have to blink regularly
- Cat’s eyes are very expressive of mood
Dr Jo says..
- Watch for any problems and see your vet if you’re concerned
- Some cats enjoy watching television while other appear unconcerned. Programs cats like to watch include animal shows and cartoons!
Did you know?
Cats see about six times better than a human at night.
Cats need an essential amino acid in their food, called taurine for good eyesight among other things. That’s why you shouldn’t feed your cat dog food or exclusively home-cooked food. Check with your vet about a proper feline diet.
Keeping your cat up-to-date with vaccinations and regular check-ups is a smart way to help prevent any eye problems.