Cat's Eyes ...
Here’s Looking At You, Kitty

A cat's eyes...Most anyone who has ever found themselves gazing into a cat's eyes knows...quicker than kitty can swat a moving target... it’s easy to fall under the feline spell.

Usually this spell results in a feeling of contentment and an intense desire to curl up for a cat nap...followed by the desire to do whatever your cat requests. vintage cartoon cat

Typical requests from our cat Britches include: “feed me”, brush me”, “rub my belly”, “play with me”, “adore me”...all to which we happily ablige.

Beyond being mesmerizing, the eyes of a cat are one of the most vital external cat body parts. Vital to your cat’s well being and vital to it’s “feline communication” with you.

At first glance, you might think, ok, the cat has two eyes. They open, they close, they allow the cat to see. What more is there to know?

Look Closely Into Your Cat's Eyes

Well, for starters, take a closer look...seriously...if you have a cat, take a closer look into its eyes. (Not too long though or you'll freak your little fuzzy friend out!)

Now, take a look below at some of the most frequently asked questions about the cat's'll see that the eyes of a cat play an important role in cat language...The more you understand about how the cat's eyes function, the more you will be able to understand cat behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Cat's Eyes:

cat has a question raising hand


What should a healthy cat’s eyes look like?

healthy cats eyes

  • Bright and clear with no squint.
  • Lively, alert and curious.
  • Free from clouding, discharge, crustiness, inflammation, swelling or redness.*

* Runny eyes in a cat could indicate an upper respiratory infection (URI) or...
”ah-chew” a kitty with a cold…
(Probably a good time to call the vet).

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Yikes! My cat has reptilian eyes!

cat with alien eyes

When you see a cat whose eyes look like this, what do you think of? A reptile…an alien…or maybe just something sort of weird?

When you’re not accustomed to cats, seeing this slit-like pupil can be a bit offsetting. But, like many things, a little bit of information can go a long way in revealing what is really just one more incredible feature of the feline’s external body.

  • Ok, to start, remember that cats are designed to be hunters. Their “prey” usually becomes most active around twilight, so, the cats eyes have to be able to function well in the really low-light conditions of nighttime, and then do the same in the bright light of daytime.

As you read this, keep in mind how our own eyes work…we see best in daylight or with good artificial lighting, but the dusty light of dusk is a much more difficult time of day for us “two-leg” varieties to see well.

  • In the cat’s eye, the colored portion (i.e. green, gold, orange, blue) is the iris.
    The black in the center of the eye is the pupil.

    Within the iris are two ciliary muscles. These muscles allow the cat’s pupil to respond to the available light…to open wide in low light and contract to a small size in bright light such as sunlight.

    In bright light the pupil must contract to protect the sensitive retina, causing the pupil to take on the narrow, vertical shape that makes us think of reptilian eyes.

circular_eye_shape elliptical_eye_shape

  • Wondering why human eyes don’t look the same as feline eyes in the sunlight? The muscle that controls our pupils is a circular ciliary muscle, where as in cats it is an elliptical ciliary muscle.

  • In addition to having different types of muscles in the iris, the size of a cat’s eye is, on scale, larger than that of people. The cat having a larger eye means a larger pupil…and that means the ability for more light to enter the eye.

  • As if all the above isn’t enough, because the lens of a cat’s eye is more curved than ours, they have the ability to focus more precisely…all the way to the edge of their lens.

As I sit here writing, peering through my bi-focal glasses, I can’t help but wonder... what would it be like to have the extraordinary visual gifts of the cat?

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How well do cats see?

cat holding binoculars

Have you ever held a piece of food in front of your cat’s face, only to have kitty sniff your finger, but not “find” the treat? You can see it…why can’t your cat?

  • A cat's vision does not allow it to see “up close” as clearly as most humans. They see best at a distance in the 2 to 6.5 yard range.

  • Cats do excel with their binocular (depth) and peripheral (side) vision.

  • Consider this, on average:

    • A human has: 120 degrees of binocular vision

    • A cat has: 130 degrees of binocular vision

    • A human has: 90 degrees of peripheral vision

    • A cat has: 120 degrees of peripheral vision

  • With this great field of vision, the cat’s eyes are capable of detecting slight motion…especially out of the corners of their eyes. (How many mom’s and teachers would love to have this ability?!)

  • Within the cats brain are unique nerve cells that allow the cat to respond to very minute movements…those that would likely be unseen by our human eyes.

  • cat chasing mouse

    • Have you ever watched a cat in the yard…all is calm then their head snaps to attention, eyes focus intently then “zap”… with lightening fast speed and perfectly judged distance, the cat zeros in on its prey.

    • cat stalking

    • Perhaps a leap and bound with a swat ensues…then the prey freezes as a defense ploy, causing the cat to loose sight of it. Sometimes you might see your cat wiggle its hind quarters.

    • This wiggle might be an overflow of excitement before the pounce...

    • ...Or it could be to allow the cat to refresh its view and simulate movement to help re-zero its eyes in on its prey before the final attack.

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Why do cat’s eyes glow?

Cat_Eye_Glowing_Red Cat_Eyes_Glowing_Orange

Ever been a little freaked out by something like this? Well, rest easy…nothing to be afraid of!

  • Now for some, this next statement might need a “Spoiler Alert”…
    The eyes aren’t actually glowing. They are reflecting light from little cells that act like mirrors.

  • At the back of the cat’s retina is a layer of cells called the tapetum lucidum. These cells help the cat to see in really low-light conditions by reflecting light back onto the retina. Also, these mirror-like cells amplify any existing light, no matter how faint. The reflection is what results in the “glow” or “bicycle reflector look” we often see.

  • If numbers impress you, then you might be interested to know that the cats tapetum lucidum (mirror-like cells) reflects 130 times more light than our own human eye.

  • Thanks to the cat’s incredible ocular design, they can use almost 50 percent more available light than human eyes…plus, they can “see” light that is 6 times dimmer than we humans can see.

  • It’s interesting to note, Siamese cats eyes will glow red…like a couple of fiery embers. Apparently there is some type of difference from other cat breeds in the tapetum lucidum (mirror-like cells). Most other cats eyes will glow green…like Superman’s kryptonite!

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Can cats see in the dark?

cartoon cat eyes and moon

  • Contrary to popular belief, a cat cannot see in total, pitch black darkness!

    To re-cap from above, some element of light must be available.

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Do cats see in color?

what a cat sees humans see in color

Yes, cats are able to see color, but people see more color.

Why? Well it has to do with cones and rods…

  • First of all, humans see more color than a cat because of the number of color sensors, or cones that we have.

  • Cats have a smaller number of these special cells (cones), which are located on the back of the retina.

  • The light sensors, or rods, allow our feline friends to see varying shades of black, gray and white. Because cats have more rods than humans do, they are better able to see in dim light.

    • Picture when cats usually head out to hunt…twilight, right? That’s when their “prey” of choice (rodents) is usually on the move. As the light fades, so does the color, leaving things to look black, gray and white…so, it really seems that the cat doesn’t need to see color for one of it’s most important tasks, but, they do need to be able to see in low light…a perfect design.

    • It is thought that to a cat, twilight appears more like daylight than the long shadows that humans see.

  • It is believed that cats are able to see some color variations between shades of red, green, blue and yellow. As far as what colors people see versus what a cat sees, there is a difference.

    • Humans see combinations of colors…red, yellow, and blue.

    • Cats basically see via two colors, or a dichromatic system of seeing.

      • Because cats have few cones that are red-sensitive, in bright light green or blue look brighter than yellow or red.

      • What_a_cat_sees

      • To visualize what cats see, on your television, try adjusting the color control so only the green and blues remain…surprised?

  • When it comes down to what attracts a cat’s eye, it seems that pattern may be more stimulating than color.

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What is my cat’s mood?

Cat’s eyes can be a window into…its mood!


Dilated pupils tend to indicate an excited cat, a fearful cat or surprised cat, while constricted pupils may mean an angry cat, aggressive cat or agitated cat.

During cat play, it is not uncommon for the cat's pupils to become very dilated.


Cats use eye contact as a form of communicating submission or aggression.

A submissive cat will avoid direct eye contact, while a feline showing aggressive cat behavior will hold a glaring gaze.

Sometimes cat’s eyes need no explanation at all!
Catnap time...ZZZzzzzz…

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How many cat eye shapes are there?

There are three basic eye shapes for cats:

Siamese cat eyes

Siamese cat eyes close up

The almond-shaped eyes of Oriental-type cats, such as the Siamese, are set to the side of the head and have a slight slant.

Persian cat eyes are round

Persians have distinctly round eyes.

tabby eyes are oval

Most other kitty-pets have more of an oval shaped eye.

If you look closely at each picture, you can see that the different shapes are created by the position of the eyes along with the position, or shape, of the lower and upper eyelids.

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What is a cat’s third eyelid?


Cat’s eyes have a ”third eyelid” formally called the nictitating membrane (also spelled “nictating” and referred to as “haw”).

You typically won’t see this pale pink membrane, but it’s located in the inner corner of the cat's eye.


  • This “third eyelid” helps keep the eye moist by preventing dryness.

  • When protection of the cats eye is required, the membrane will unfold and cover the eyes surface.


If you see more than just a sliver of this third eyelid, watch carefully for signs of cat illness.

This can possibly be a warning that you have a sick cat and it’s time to get kitty to the vet.

But, when you call your veterinarian's office, what will you tell the receptionist, nurse or doctor? How will you describe what you are seeing that has you so concerned about your cat?


When you do call your vet, so you can be better prepared to accurately describe your cats symptoms, here is a little insight that might help you know what to look for:

Since the felines third eyelid will typically appear due to either illness or injury, a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is:

  • Illness: Will be the probable cause if both eyes have visible third eye membrane.

  • Injury: Will be the probable cause if only one eye is showing third eye membrane. This might occur when there is either injury or infection specifically to only one of your cats eyes.

Now, to further confuse things, some healthy cats, when relaxed, will show a bit of this third advice?

Know what your cat's behavior is like when healthy
to make spotting illness/changes easier!

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