Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fun Friday Facts #98: What Do Cats See?

As an owner of cats, I spend my fair share of time idly wondering how these little creatures that live in the world see me and my home. What do I look like to my cats? Do they think I’m just a big, dumb cat? Do the words I say when I talk to my cats sound the same to them as their howling and chirping sounds to me? Why does Max sit in the other room and make noises that alarm my guests? Finally, I decided to investigate.

According to Dr. John Bradshaw, author of “Cat Sense,” my cats may not exactly think of me as though I was another cat, but cats do interact with humans exactly the way they interact with other cats. When cats knead, purr, or rub up against your leg, they’re demonstrating the same behavior they used to get affection from their mothers as kittens -- and when you pet the cat, you’re basically responding the same way Mama Cat did when she groomed her little babies. Unlike dogs, for example, domestic cats have not evolved a specific set of behaviors with which to interact with humans, probably because they haven’t been bred for specific purposes like dogs have. This leads scientists like Bradshaw to conclude that cats don’t really see humans as different from themselves, although I don’t know about that because I’ve never seen my cats ask each other for treats.   

Though to be fair, they probably would if they had thumbs.

As for how my cats actually see physically see me, well, they do it with their eyes. Ha.
Live Science reports that cats have a much wider field of peripheral vision – about 200 degrees to our 180s degrees. Cats are also nearsighted, and can only clearly see objects within about 20 feet. That means they can probably see my face, which is something I’ve always wondered.

As you may be aware, cats have great night vision, thanks to their large corneas, elliptical eye shape, but also because of their tapetum, a layer of reflective tissue that directs a larger amount of light to the retina. Cats have between six and eight times more light-sensitive rod cells than humans, which help them to more easily perceive the spirits of the restless dead I mean see in the dark. The tapetum in cat’s eyes may allow them to see different wavelengths of light, so that ghosts stand out more sharply against the nighttime shadows. Cats can also spot motion in the dark far more easily than humans.

Cats can’t see all of the colors that we can, since we have more color-sensitive cone cells in our eyes. Humans, as you’re aware, can see a range of shades of green, red and blue. Cats, however, may only see blues and grays, although the results of a study published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggest that cats can see colors on the UV spectrum that humans can’t see.

Human eyes don’t allow a lot of UV light to reach the retina, a fact that scientists credit for our unusually sharp vision. Cats’ eyes, on the other hand, are sensitive to UV light, and can presumably see brilliant patterns and colors on objects like birds’ wings, flower petals, and sheets of paper. This, the study authors speculate, may be why cats love paper and, presumably, cardboard boxes so much.