How Cats See the World
No one ever talks about what the world looks like if you’re a cat. Instead, we speak of the bird’s-eye view and use fish-eye lenses to make things look weird.
But we rarely consider how the internet’s favorite subject sees the world. Luckily, artist Nickolay Lamm has volunteered to act as cat-vision conduit. Here, Lamm presents his idea of what different scenes might look like if you were a cat, taking into consideration the way feline eyes work, and using input from veterinarians and ophthalmologists.
For starters, cats’ visual fields are broader than ours, spanning roughly 200 degrees instead of 180 degrees, and their visual acuity isn’t as good. So, the things humans can sharply resolve at distances of 100-200 feet look blurry to cats, which can see these objects at distances of up to 20 feet. That might not sound so great, but there’s a trade-off: Because of the various photoreceptors parked in cats’ retinas, they kick our asses at seeing in dim light. Instead of the color-resolving, detail-loving cone cells that populate the center of human retinas, cats (and dogs) have many more rod cells, which excel in dim light and are responsible for night-vision capability. The rod cells also refresh more quickly, which lets cats pick up very rapid movements — like, for example, the quickly shifting path a marauding laser dot might trace.
Lastly, cats see colors differently than we do, which is why the cat-versions of these images look less vibrant than the people-versions. Scientists used to think cats were dichromats — able to only see two colors — but they’re not, exactly. While feline photoreceptors are most sensitive to wavelengths in the blue-violet and greenish-yellow ranges, it appears they might be able to see a little bit of green as well. In other words, cats are mostly red-green color blind, as are many of us, with a little bit of green creeping in.
The blurriness at the edge of the photos represents the area of peripheral vision in humans (20 degrees, top) and cats (30 degrees, bottom).
Cats can’t clearly focus on objects that are more than 20 feet away.
Cats' visual fields span 200 degrees; humans can only see 180 degrees.
Cat’s-eye view of Shanghai (not Toronto).
Cats can see much better in dim light than humans can.
In addition to seeing better in the dark, cats are also better than humans at picking up quick movements.
All Photos: Nickolay Lamm, in consultation with Kerry L. Ketring, DVM, DACVO of All Animal Eye Clinic, Dr. DJ Haeussler of The Animal Eye Institute, and the Ophthalmology group at Penn Vet.