Can Cats See Color?

When it comes to our feline friends, exactly what they think and feel can be a total mystery. They can go from being all hyped up, running around the house at 3 in the morning, to sleeping quietly on your chest, purring loudly, in a matter of minutes. It’s hard to make sense of what is going on inside that cute, furry head of theirs, because they are just so different from humans.

But they don’t have to continue to be such an enigma! With a little insider information, thanks to people who have been studying cat anatomy and behavior for their entire lives, you can gain a much better understanding of your precious baby. Understanding of your cat, and acceptance of what really makes them tick, is key to a close, loving relationship. And isn’t that the ultimate goal? 

This article will take a look at some of the most common questions cat owners have about their pet’s physical abilities and characteristics, and give you some answers that may surprise you. Ready to get started?

Can Cats See Color?

While we all wish we could see things from our cats perspective, the technology just doesn’t exist yet (wouldn’t that be cool?). The next best thing is relying on the professionals, who have dedicated their careers to understanding cats better. One of the questions they get asked most frequently by pet owners is if their cats can see color and, if so, how much and which ones.

Fortunately, cats’ ability to see color has been a major research subject for many years now. To start, we need to understand a few important things about the anatomy of the eye. Essentially, the way that any eye (in any species) takes in and processes color is by using the eye’s nerve cells. These nerve cells are located in the retina and there are two different types of them - rods and cones. While rods are used for night vision and help the eye see things in “grey scale,” the cones are the ones that are responsible for color vision. 

Anatomically, cats have three different types of cones that are able to identify various combinations of the colors red, blue, and green. This is the same amount as humans have, where dogs only have two different types of cones. However, when it comes to the number of cones, humans have around ten times as many. What that means is that, while both humans and cats can see color, humans are able to see far more color variation than cats can.

On the flipside, though, cats have far more rods than humans. That is why they are so great at seeing in the dark, as well as identifying motion far more quickly. 

However, consensus on how much color cats can really see is a matter of some disagreement. Some scientists think that cats are only really able to see blue and grey, and others think they are also able to differentiate the color yellow.

When it comes to playtime, if we take what our cats can see into account, they are much more likely to enjoy playing with toys that are yellow and blue much more than red toys. 

Why Do Some Cats Have Extra Toes?

While most cats have 18 toes, five on both of their front feet and four on both of their back feet, some cats are born with even more. It can be kind of strange to see these huge pawed kitties, and many people wonder exactly why it happens. 

Known as polydactyl (poly for “many,” and dactyl for “digits/toes”), the phenomenon has been seen enough that there is an entire colony of them on Key West. There, they are known as Hemingway cats, as they were introduced to the island by the famous author, Ernest Hemingway. Likely related to his original polydactyl cat, Snow White, the cats are excellent ambassadors for the condition. 

But how do they end up with all those extra toes?

Essentially, polydactylism is born from a genetic mutation. Cats that inherit the gene from one parent have between a 40 and 50% chance of being born with extra toes. While Maine Coons are statistically more likely to be polydactyl, it can happen with any breed. Throughout history, these cats have been thought to bring good luck. The record holder for toe count is a whopping 28! 

So, the next time you see a cat with extra toes, think of it as a furrier version of a four-leaf clover! And give that special kitty extra scritchins for us. Hemingway would approve. 

Why Do Cats Always Land On Their Feet?

One of the most well-known but misunderstood facts about cats is that they always land on their feet. Watching a cat fall from any height can be terrifying, like watching a football player dodge and weave their way through a line of angry opposing team members. You don’t want to watch, but you can’t look away. The saving grace is that cats always land on their feet, right?

That cat “myth” is absolutely true, but it’s also not as simple as it may look!

The reason that cats always land on the feet comes down to two factors - their incredibly flexible backbones (in fact, they have more vertebrae than we do which is why they seem to be a liquid instead of a solid sometimes) and a very finely-tuned sense of balance. This leads to what is called the cat’s “righting reflex.”

When a fall happens, the first thing that is triggered is the cat’s vestibular apparatus (a system located in their inner ear that controls their sense of balance). It combines with the cat’s sight to quickly tell them which way is up and which way is down. This then triggers their body to unconsciously “right” itself, starting with the upper body then followed by their lower body. 

Their natural “righting reflex” is coupled with other factors that work in their favor when it comes to falling. Specifically, cats have a very light bone structure, thick fur, and small bodies, which all work together to reduce their “terminal velocity,” or how fast they fall. Some of them will even naturally flatten themselves out as they fall, similar to a flying squirrel, which increases their resistance in the air and slows down the speed of their fall. 

Cats are pretty amazing, right?

There is a caveat to all this amazing anatomy, though. While cats start “learning” to fall as soon as they are born, and the vast majority of them have the skill down by the time they’re just seven weeks old, they can still be hurt by a fall. 

Falls from shorter distances (like one or two stories), tend to be far more dangerous than those from taller distances. This is due to the fact that shorter falls don’t always give the cat the opportunity to have their full “righting reflex” engaged before hitting the ground. Make sure you keep your windows lowered and your screens firmly in place to avoid your cat needing to use their skills.

Cats are full of a lot of amazing physical traits and skills. A lot of the cat mysteries of the past have been solved thanks to feline scientists dedicating their time and energy to researching them. While we still think they are superheroes, all of their strange and interesting physical characteristics can be explained with hard, anatomical science. This doesn’t change how great cats are, though! It only enhances our understanding of how lucky we are to share our lives with them.