Can Cats See Infrared Light?

Are you curious about the mysterious ways of your feline friend? Have you ever marveled at how they can effortlessly glide through the house at night without a single bump or stumble? Well, let us introduce you to the intriguing world of infrared light and cats.

Infrared light is a type of light that lies beyond the visible spectrum. It’s emitted by warm objects in the environment and is what thermal cameras use to capture images of people and animals in the dark. But can cats see it?

The answer is no, unfortunately. However, don’t be disheartened as cats have evolved some incredible adaptations that allow them to see remarkably well in low light conditions. Their eyes contain a high density of light-sensitive cells called rods, which are more sensitive to light than the cones that help us see colors.

Moreover, cats have a special reflective structure in their eyes called a tapetum lucidum. This structure amplifies incoming light and enhances their vision in low light conditions. So while they may not be able to see infrared radiation, they still possess impressive visual abilities that enable them to navigate even in total darkness.

Humans can perceive some infrared radiation as warmth on our skin, but our furry friends have an edge when it comes to seeing in dimly lit environments. With their superior night vision capabilities, it’s no wonder they’re such stealthy hunters.

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What is Infrared Light?

Infrared light is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum that falls between visible light and microwave radiation. It has a longer wavelength than visible light, which allows it to penetrate surfaces that visible light cannot, such as fog and smoke. Infrared radiation is produced by all objects with a temperature above absolute zero, and the hotter an object is, the more infrared radiation it produces.

Now, let’s talk about cats. Research suggests that cats have some ability to see infrared light. Their retina can absorb the infrared radiation and convert it into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. However, their ability to see in the infrared spectrum is limited compared to other animals like snakes or insects.

Scientists have conducted experiments to test cats’ ability to see infrared light using the Morris water maze test. In this test, cats are trained to find a hidden platform using visual cues that are replaced with infrared cues. The cats’ ability to find the platform is then measured. While cats can see some forms of infrared light, it is still unclear how well they can see it or if it plays a significant role in their daily lives.

How Do Cats See Infrared Light?

Cats have a special type of photoreceptor in their eyes called rod cells. These cells are responsible for detecting changes in light levels, especially in low-light conditions. Interestingly, they are also sensitive to short-wavelength light, including some types of infrared light. This means that cats can see some heat sources that emit infrared light, such as warm bodies or objects.

While cats cannot see all types of infrared light, they can see some of the longer wavelengths that are close to the visible spectrum. Imagine a human hand that has just been placed on a warm surface like a sunny windowsill. To us, it may just look like a hand sitting on a windowsill, but to cats, they may be able to see the heat emanating from the hand as a different color or intensity.

However, it is important to note that while cats have some ability to see in infrared, it is not their primary method of sensing their environment. In fact, cats rely more heavily on their other senses such as smell and hearing to navigate their surroundings and hunt prey. Infrared vision is simply one of many tools that cats use to survive and thrive in their environments.

Experiments Conducted to Test Cats’ Ability to See Infrared Light

Yes, it’s true. Cats’ incredible senses include acute hearing, an excellent sense of smell, and sharp vision. But their ability to detect warm bodies or objects that emit infrared light is truly remarkable.

Scientists have conducted several experiments to test cats’ ability to see infrared light. One of the earliest studies was conducted by William A. Hines in the 1960s. He used operant conditioning to train cats to respond to infrared light. The experiment involved placing the cats in a dark room with an infrared light source. When they approached the source of the light, they were rewarded with food. Simple yet effective.

In another experiment conducted in the 1990s by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, electroretinography (ERG) was used to measure the electrical activity of cells in cats’ retinas in response to different wavelengths of light. The study found that while cats do have some ability to see infrared light, it’s not as strong as other animals such as snakes.

A more recent study in 2014 by researchers at City University London used optogenetics to genetically modify cells in cats’ eyes to make them sensitive to light in the infrared range. The study found that the cats were able to detect and respond to infrared light. How cool is that?

However, it’s important to note that these experiments were conducted under specific laboratory conditions and may not reflect how cats perceive infrared light in their natural environment. So while it’s fascinating to know that our feline friends have this extra sense, we can’t assume that they’re using it all the time.

Limitations of Cats’ Ability to See Infrared Light

The answer is a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no.

Infrared light is a type of electromagnetic radiation that has a longer wavelength than visible light and is invisible to the naked eye. While some animals, such as snakes and certain birds, can detect infrared light, cats’ eyes are not well-equipped for it.

Cats’ eyes contain only two types of photoreceptor cells: rods and cones. Rods are responsible for detecting light in low-light conditions, while cones are responsible for color vision.

Cats lack a third type of photoreceptor cell called “mid-wavelength sensitive cones” (M-cones), which means they cannot see certain colors and wavelengths of light, including infrared.

However, this does not mean that cats cannot sense infrared light through other means. For example, cats can detect heat through their whiskers and sense of touch. They also have an incredible ability to hear high-pitched sounds that are beyond human hearing, which allows them to locate prey or predators in the dark.

While cats’ ability to see infrared light is limited due to their lack of certain photoreceptor cells, this does not hinder their overall night vision capabilities. Cats have a wide range of other senses that allow them to navigate in the dark with ease.

For instance, they can detect movement with their highly sensitive whiskers and smell even the faintest scent with their keen sense of smell.

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Benefits of Cats Being Able to See Infrared Light

It might seem like an unusual skill for a domesticated cat, but don’t be fooled – this ability has several practical benefits.

One of the most significant advantages of cats being able to see infrared light is their hunting ability. Infrared light is emitted by warm-blooded prey, which makes them easier for cats to spot in the dark. This unique advantage gives cats an edge when hunting at night, allowing them to catch their prey with remarkable ease and efficiency.

In addition to their hunting prowess, cats’ ability to see infrared light also helps them navigate their surroundings. They can detect heat sources such as radiators or warm spots on the ground, which enables them to find comfortable places to rest or hide. This feature is particularly helpful for outdoor cats who need to find shelter during cold weather.

Moreover, cats’ ability to see infrared light may also play a role in their social behavior. As highly social animals, cats use body language and facial expressions to communicate with each other.

By being able to see infrared light, they may pick up on subtle changes in body temperature and facial expressions that are not visible to humans. This could help them better understand and interact with other cats, strengthening their social bonds.

Also Read: Why Doesn’t My Cat Chase A Laser Pointer?


To sum up, cats may not be able to see infrared light, but they have remarkable visual adaptations that enable them to navigate in low-light conditions effortlessly. Their eyes contain a high concentration of light-sensitive rods, which are more sensitive to light than the cones that humans rely on for color vision. Additionally, the tapetum lucidum structure in their eyes amplifies incoming light and enhances their vision in dimly lit environments.

Although cats’ ability to detect infrared radiation is limited compared to other animals like snakes or insects, scientists have conducted various experiments to test their capability using methods such as electroretinography (ERG) and optogenetics.

While seeing infrared light may not be crucial for cats’ survival, it has practical benefits. It helps them hunt at night by detecting warm-blooded prey and find warm spots to rest or hide. Additionally, it may also play a role in their social behavior by helping them better understand and interact with other cats.

Overall, the world of feline vision is fascinating and full of surprises.