I’m a cat person. I love dogs, but they’re just too much responsibility for me. My cat has the personality of a dog — she comes when I call her, she waits by the front door for me to come home, she’s almost never aloof — yet she still craps in a box. Score for me! My cat is also cross-eyed — this was one of the main selling points when I first decided to adopt her. I don’t know what she sees, or what she thinks she sees. I’ve always wanted to find out, and now, thanks to an artist’s visualizations of the world through a cat’s eyes, I can.
Nickolay Lamm, an artist and researcher from Pittsburgh whose works have been featured in a slew of popular publications, was also taken with the question of what cats see when they look around them. The top panel of these pictures represents what humans see and the bottom is what a cat sees. It might be tempting to think that Lamm has taken significant artistic liberties here, but a lot of science went into these renderings.
Lamm did his homework and talked to University of Pennsylvania veterinary school ophalmologists and other animal eye experts to be sure had the facts straight about cats’ visual abilities. A cat’s visual field is 200 degrees (a human’s visual field is 180 degrees). Cats also have wider peripheral vision — 30 degrees per side, compared to 20 for humans. Cats are generally pretty far-sighted, and something we look at from a distance of a couple hundred feet wouldn’t look as sharp to a cat until it was about 20 feet away.
Lamm tried to take this information into account — the blurry edges of the photos depict peripheral vision and the black bars represent the limits of humans’ field of vision. It’s pretty clear from his depictions that sightseeing would be lost on a cat — unless it was at night.
If you have a cat, you know that nighttime is when cats become spazzy freaks. I don’t know what my cat gets up to when I turn out the lights, but I can hear her pawing at this thing or that, even chasing toys across the floor. I used to think she was being loud just to annoy me, which I still think is true, but Lamm’s artwork really drives home how much better cats’ night vision is than ours — six to eight times better, to be exact.
In addition to big-time pupil dilation in low light, cats have more retinal photoreceptors. They also have what other nighttime animal hunters have — a layer of reflective tissue that bounces light from the back of the eye back through the retina, essentially giving them a second chance to process visual information in the dark. That’s also why, if you’ve ever taken a photo of a cat, its eyes make it look possessed. I’m not saying your cat isn’t actually possessed, though — I’m pretty sure many of them are.
For Lamm’s follow-up experiment, maybe he can look into Google Glass for felines. Complete with voice commands, of course.