My cat begins her day like Simba, surveying her territory, and is purringly content that all she sees will one day be hers — if it isn’t already. As she looks out over what seems to be her kingdom, I can't help but wonder what she's seeing.
Is the world more or less colorful, more or less full of tiny details? Does she see the world differently than I do? What does the world look like to cats? Thankfully, scientists have the answers to my questions.
Cats literally have a broader worldview than their humans. We see 180 degrees, they see 200. I can only assume that those extra 20 degrees let them see a world where cats are the supreme beings and we are merely their lowly caretakers.
We earn some points when it comes to color, however. Thanks to the higher number of cones in our retinas, we see more colors than cats. That is not to say that cats cannot see in color, only that the colors we see are more saturated, whereas the colors they see are comparable to a person who is color-blind. In other words, while you are concentrating on matching your wardrobe or distracted by a beautiful blue sky, your cat is plotting world domination.
You might think that mighty hunters like cats would have better visual acuity than humans, but you would be wrong. On average, we have 20/20 vision, while cats have between 20/100 to 20/200. This makes sense when you think about their lifestyle, however. They are far more focused on what is right in front of them — namely their owners, who may or may not be opening a can of fresh wet food, and unsuspecting prey.
My theory is that it all boils down to what happens after dark. While you are dependent on lights, cats roam the darkness doing who knows what thanks to the high number of rods in their retinas.
Now that you know what the world looks like to cats, let me throw you a curve ball. Not only is your cat super-focused on its immediate surroundings, undistracted by bright colors and enjoying extra peripheral vision, but they may also understand simple rules of physics according to a study by researchers from Kyoto University in Japan.
Cats understand cause and effect. They can make logical connections based on sound, which is probably how they predict where prey might hide, and it also has disturbing connotations for owners. Yes, it is possible that your cat really did mean to trip you.
World domination aside, the most startling difference between how cats see the world and how we do is how little difference there actually is. Sure, we can see farther and with more color, and they can see better in the dark, but for the most part, the world looks fairly similar. Which means I'll have to go back to the drawing board if I really want to figure out why my cat rules the roost.
A version of this article was originally published in February 2017.
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