No, cats cannot move their eyes independently of their heads. Just like humans, they have to move their heads to look at anything in their periphery. But they are able to blink, squint, close their eyes, dilate and constrict their pupils, move their eyelids, and roll their eyes.
This article will further discuss the details of what a cat’s eyes can and cannot do. If you want to learn more, then keep reading.
What are cat eyes?
Cat eyes are astounding tools of vision. They have vertical pupils that open and close quickly like the shutter on a camera.
Cats are crepuscular, meaning they are asleep most of the daytime and are most active during the dusk and dawn hours. Their eyes are designed to adapt to both light and dark, and they emit a luminescent glow when you see them in the dark.
Animals that can move their eyes include cows, horses, goats, sheep, and deer. These animals’ eyes are able to rotate all around depending on the position of their head, while cats have limited peripheral vision, like human beings. Their eyes face forward at the front of their face which makes it difficult for them to see their sides.
When it comes to hunting, this can be an advantage as the eyes are well-adapted to hunt down their prey more effectively, in both light and dark.
Can cats move their eyes?
No, cats cannot move their eyes, because they lack the muscles that allow them free movement, such as that of a chameleon. If they have to locate things on their sides, they would have to move their heads to look. They can, however, alter them to adjust to different conditions, as well as to convey their emotions. They can constrict and dilate their pupils, blink, squint, close their eyes, move their eyelids, and roll their eyes.
Why and how do cats change their eyes?
1. Regulate the amount of light
During the day, a cat’s pupils constrict to limit the amount of light shining into the retina. This is so that they are not blinded by bright light. They need to protect their eyes so they can be kept keen for hunting at night. You can clearly see a cat’s pupils become narrow slits when a bright light is shown on them, so they are still able to see.
In darker conditions, their pupils dilate fully to a circular shape. This is to allow the maximum amount of light to enter for them to see better in the dark. When a cat is frightened or feels as if it is in danger, their pupils will also dilate so they have the widest possible field of vision of its surroundings and multiple options for escape.
2. To communicate
When a cat is experiencing strong emotions, its pupils will dilate. When you give your cat its food, you might notice their pupils dilating as a sign of excitement.
When a cat is angry, like when a new cat is introduced into the home, your cat’s pupils may constrict as a threat signal. It is advisable to avoid any and all eye contact with the cat since they can misconstrue this as a challenge to fight. Expect your cat to become angry or aggressive. Try to avoid this by placing the cats in separate rooms and introducing them properly.
3. An alert cat has wide-open eyes
Cats will not risk exposing their eyes to harm. So, when their eyes are wide-open, that means there is no perceived danger and the cat is comfortable with everything around it.
4. An unblinking stare is a sign of aggression or dominance
Cats do not blink as frequently as humans do, so this behavior of an unblinking stare is very subtle. They do this when they are trying to communicate to other animals that they are in control. When effective, other cats and animals keep their distance from these areas. This behavior is common in households with multiple cats or pets.
5. For better vision
Cats’ eyes face forward and work together to create binocular vision. This gives the cat strong eyesight. This also allows them to have a depth perception of images in three dimensions.
While narrowing their pupils, cats can also move their top and bottom eyelids closer towards each other to further narrow down the image with a horizontal slit. This enables the cat to have more accurate vision and give the images they see a high definition quality.
How is a cat’s vision ideal for hunting when they are unable to move their eyes?
They have photoreceptors that are good for night vision
Cats have a layer of cells called the tapetum lucidum at the back of the eye that act as a mirror. The membrane reduces the threshold of vision to around six times lower than the amount of light required for human vision. This enables the cat to see in the dark with minimal light. The layer also bounces incoming light back into the retina cells so that the cat can make use of the available light.
Reflection of the light is what makes the cat’s eyes glow in the dark, especially when flashed with light.
A cat is focused on their prey when hunting, and not on their surroundings.
When a cat hunts, its retina will detect any motion from prey running across its field of vision. This adaptation helps when the cat is zeroing in on its prey.
Cats have very sharp eyesight.
The retina contains a very sensitive area called the area centralis, which contains thousands of photoreceptors tightly packed within it. Each photoreceptor is connected to a nerve fiber, and all the nerve fibers are put together to form the optic nerve. It is the photoreceptors that change the image into electrical impulses. The optical nerve then carries the electrical impulses to the brain. The excellent visual acuity of cats enables them to judge distance and speed accurately.
What are the limitations of a cat’s vision?
Cats need light or illumination to function.
The idea that cats can see in the dark is a misconception, but they can see clearer in low light compared to human beings.
They have a limited ability to distinguish colors.
Contrary to popular belief, cats are not colorblind. They just see faded hues and fewer colors like green, blue, and gray, but have a hard time distinguishing brown, red, or orange colors. This is because they have much fewer cones than rods. This limitation does not really affect them because they rely on detecting motion and not details like color.
Cats cannot clearly see objects that are farther than 10 inches from their face.
Cats are near-sighted. For up-close objects, cats use their whiskers for detection and location. They also have difficulty seeing more than six meters away. For farther distances, they apply their sense of smell and their ability to detect tiny movements and tiny vibrations in the air.
No, cats cannot move their eyes, because they lack the necessary muscles to move their eyeballs freely. But they can constrict and dilate their pupils according to the available light and they can squint to make their sight laser-focused. They can also use their eyes to communicate their feelings such as an unblinking stare to show other animals that they are in control.
Despite not being able to move their eyes, they still have vision ideal for hunting due to special receptors in their eyes that are good for night vision. They also have great focus when hunting and sharp eyesight in general.
Image: istockphoto.com / Azaliya