Not in total darkness, but they can see better in semi-darkness than we or many other animals can. Cat vision is vastly different to ours, as feline eyesight developed to help these animals – who are considered more nocturnal than us – to hunt at night.
If you look full on at a cat’s head you will see that the eyes are large in comparison with the size of the head. The structure of the eye is also different. The cornea is curved and has a large lens which allows direct light to enter, and the pupils open almost to full circles to take in the maximum amount of available light. There is a reflective layer of the choroid in the retina in the eyes of many animals – known at the Tapetum – and these reflective cells allow for more light bouncing back, so the retina gets around 50% more light. These reflective cells also cause the eyes to shine in the dark, or glow green when taken with flash photography.
Cats have far superior peripheral vision to us and many other animals, being able to turn their heads around 300 degrees. This is almost full circle! The structure of the eye, combined with the superior peripheral vision allows for fast detection of movement. This, coupled with highly nimble and flexible movement, is what makes the cat such a powerful and successful hunter of rodents.
Cats – like bats and moths – are referred to as crepuscular, which means they are more active at night and dawn, that’s why many cats are seen snoozing in daylight hours. Probably to conserve their energy for a night hunt!
Our feline friends have good long-range vision, but close-up their eyesight is poor, being unable to focus on fine detail or indeed rich colour. Although cats do see colour, it is not as vivid as our own visual capability.