Ever Wonder Why Your Cat’s Eyes Glow In Pictures?

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 July 9, 2017

Unless they’re sleeping, getting a good picture of your cat isn’t easy. It isn’t only the playing, meowing, and generally uncooperative behavior you have to deal with. Even if you manage to get a good shot, some pictures of your cat are less-than-purrfect because of their eyes! Your cute and cuddly feline turns into a scary creature with strange glowing eyes when they’re caught on camera in dim lighting. The annoying glare that’s ruining your cat pictures can be explained with a simple biology lesson.

The Reason Behind Cat Eyeshine

Image Source: Flickr/Amy Stephenson


The creepy glow that comes from your cat’s eyes (called eyeshine) has to do with their ability to see in dim lighting. Cats have a layer of highly reflective cells called the tapetum lucidum located between the optic nerve and the retina. These cells act as a mirror that reflects light outward to give the cones and rods a second chance to pick it up and use it.

Compared to human eyes, cat eyes are also proportionally large. The feature that makes their pleading look especially endearing is also part of the problem of eyeshine. Large eyes allow cats to absorb more light. And when that light is reflected by the tapetum lucidum, the result is a yellow, green, or orange glare.

Not All Eyeshine Is The Same

Image Source: Flickr/Ahmed Rabea


While most cats have bright green eyeshine, the color depends on the cat’s breed, age, and even coat color. Siamese cats, for example, usually emit a bright yellowish/orange shine. The difference is due to the amount of riboflavin found in the tapetum lucidum. Riboflavin is an amino acid that acts as a reflector, and different levels produce different colors.

Eyeshine color can also change as the animal ages. The lenses become denser with time, and they aren’t able to reflect as much light. The result is usually a slight change in eyeshine color. If you have a white cat with blue eyes, their eyes might glow red. That’s because many cats with that color combination lack a tapetum lucidum, and light is reflected by the blood vessels.

How to Take Better Pictures

Image Source: Flickr/Andrew Gatt


The best solution is to stop taking pictures in low light. If you you can’t change the lighting and need to use the flash, try aiming the camera toward the bottom of your cat’s eyes, or take the picture when they’re not looking directly at you. You can also try taking two pictures with the flash on in quick succession. The pupils will get smaller on the first flash, and if you take the second picture fast enough, the glare should only be a small pinprick in the center of the eye.

Featured Image Source: Flickr/David Kowis

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