Can Cats See Things That We Can’t?

Written by: Adri Sandoval
Adri Sandoval is the Special Projects Manager for iHeartDogs and iHeartCats. Her work has deepened her love for animals, fostering a strong passion for rescue and animal advocacy.Read more
| Published on December 21, 2017

Anyone who loves a cat probably knows that they have keen senses in comparison to ours. Sometimes, their abilities even get a little odd. Most cat parents can say that they’ve witnessed their kitty suddenly stare off into space, as if they can see something that’s invisible to us humans. Then, there’s the question of how well they can see when they get that sudden burst of energy at night or in the wee hours of the morning. So begs the question: can our cats see things that we can’t?

Seeing in the dark

When it comes to detecting things in low light, our crepuscular friends have us beat.

“No animal can see in complete darkness because the structures of every eye depend on the presence of some light, but cats can see better in lower light conditions than humans can,” explains Dr. Kathryn Primm.

So, when it comes to spotting things in dawn- or dust-like lighting, the short answer is yes, our cats can see things we can’t.

Seeing “ghosts”

You’re sitting on the couch watching TV when you notice that your kitty’s gaze is intently fixated on… nothing. Is it possible that your feline is staring at spirits or something paranormal? Not necessarily.

“When cats appear to be staring into space, they may actually be detecting subtle motion, as their vision is much more acute than ours,” veterinarian Rachel Barrack of Animal Acupuncture told The Dodo.

The story also points out findings from a 2014 study suggesting that cats and dogs may be able to see UV light. If this is true, then in the most literal way, cats can see things that are invisible to the human eye.

There’s also the possibility that the mundane things we do see but think nothing about – say, certain shadows or reflections – intrigue our naturally curious companions. After all, they can’t rationalize the same way we can; what we know to be the reflection of a passing car is just a mysterious bouncing light to our feline friends.

Here’s something else to consider: our cats’ sensitive ears and noses can pick up sounds and smells that we humans can’t. Maybe one of these other senses are directing them to that “spot in thin air,” so naturally, their gaze will follow.

Now, back to ghosts. Assuming you believe in them, and given our cat’s impressive senses, one would think that it is possible for our kitties to detect spirits from another world. After all, if a paranormal presence emits some sort of ethereal energy, is it so hard to believe that our cats can perceive it even when we can’t?

Staring at you

If you’re a cat parent, chances are, you’ve also observed your kitty’s bright eyes concentrated squarely on… you! This may have you wondering: “Is there tuna on my face? A mouse on my head? Is my cat actually plotting my demise?”

Chances are, our feline friends aren’t staring at something that we can’t see on ourselves, but rather, they’re just observing us – their humans.

As  hunters, our curious comrades are always aware of their surroundings as a means of survival. So naturally, when we’re in their surroundings, they want to know what we’re doing. To them, watching us is interesting, perhaps even entertaining… plus, they love us! We represent food, warmth, comfort, safety, companionship, and affection. Is it really any wonder why they want to know what we’re up to?

What’s more, cats may seem to be “staring” when really, that’s just how they look at the world. Our furry observers blink less than humans do, so their gaze appears especially intense. And if those pretty peepers are making contact with your own eyes, consider it a sign of love, especially when accompanied by a slow blink. If you want to show your cat how much you care, offer her a slow blink back!

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