I have seen numerous articles and various information about how cats and dogs see into the ultraviolet spectrum with interesting artistic renderings such as this: Cat UV Spectrum Example http://www.livescience.com/40459-what-do-cats-see.html

But I have been unable to find any specific parameters of what wavelength boundaries actually exist for cats.

We know that humans see from around 750 to 400 nm, but what would a cat's range be?


1 Answer 1


Short answer
Spectral sensitivity of cats indeed ventures into the UV, but not beyond ~320 nm. Their maximum is likely similar to ours, i.e., ~750 nm.

The spectral sensitivity of blue cones (photoreceptors detecting low wavelengths) of many species, including humans and cats, extends into the UV range (Fig. 1).

cone spectra
Fig. 1. Human cone absorption spectra. Source: University of Kentucky

However, the various structures in the eye, most notably the lens, filter out UV in humans (Fig. 2). Indeed, surgical removal of the lens in humans results in enhanced sensitivity to UV light below 420 nm (Griswold & Stark, 1992).

transmission spectra
Fig. 2. Human transmission spectra. Source: Columbia University

In the cat, however, the lens transmits a large portion of the UV light in the range of 320 - 400 nm, while primates transmit virtually no light of these wavelengths. Figure 3 shows the lens transmission spectra of various species. At 50% transmission the second (dotted) line from the left is the cat (50% transmission at ~340 nm), while a primate (squirrel monkey, species representative for humans and other primates) in this graph is line number 7 from the left with (50% transmission at ~410 nm). Hence, cat lenses absorb less light in the UV region, but transmission is virtually nil at 320 nm (Fig. 3). Given that their cones, just like humans, are sensitive to UV, we can reasonably expect that cats can see in the UV region including wavelengths of 320 nm and up. Cats also have the 560 nm (red) cones, like we do, so their maximum wavelength is expectedly similar to ours (~750 nm).

Lens transmission
Fig. 3. Lens transmission spectra of various species. Source: Douglas & Jeffery, 2014

- Douglas & Jeffery, Proc R Soc B (2014); 281: 20132995
- Griswold & Stark, Vis Res (1992); 32(9): 1739-43

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    $\begingroup$ So is it theoretically possible that I could surgically adjust my lens somehow to obtain some sort of extra vision? $\endgroup$ May 19, 2015 at 3:23
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    $\begingroup$ @leekaiinthesky - Correct - I have added some text + a reference on aphakia (eyes without a lens) and increased UV sensitivity in humans $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    May 19, 2015 at 3:31
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    $\begingroup$ Here is a real life account of a very interesting fellow who had this experience after cataract surgery: komar.org/faq/colorado-cataract-surgery-crystalens/… @leekaiinthesky $\endgroup$
    – ylluminate
    May 19, 2015 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ Aren't cats missing red cones? That might make them less sensitive to long wavelengths than humans. Too bad there is no spectral plot for cats. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ Cats also have the 560 nm (red) cones, like we do, so their maximum wavelength is expectedly similar to ours (~750 nm). Cats indeed cannot see red, i don't know what this conclusion is not corrected. $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2023 at 2:11

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