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There's A Good Reason Cats Can't Find The Treats You Put In Front Of Them

Cats are masterful hunters, with razor-sharp senses and powerful eyes that can spot distant prey even in low light. So why is it that when you put a kitty treat right in front of this graceful warrior's face, it takes an eternity of sniffing and searching for them to finally find it? (That is, if they don't lose interest first). It turns out that those impressive eyes come with a trade-off: very close objects are impossible for cats to see.

Related: Why Calico Cats Are Almost Always Female

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Eyes Of A Predator

In relation to their body size, cats' eyes are enormous. Their pupils open much, much wider than ours do, so much so that they let in about five times more light. This, of course, makes them excellent nighttime hunters. Like most predators, they don't have much in the way of peripheral vision. Their total visual field covers about 200 degrees, with actual binocular vision in the 90–100 degree range—about the same as humans (that's right, you're a predator too).

Related: Catnip's Active Ingredient Is Actually Its Defense Mechanism

Just as children who spend less time outdoors are more likely to be nearsighted, indoor cats tend to be nearsighted too. But regardless of whether they're raised indoors or out, there's a limit to a cat's near vision. Those huge eyes and pupils keep them from being able to focus clearly on anything closer than about 10 inches (25 centimeters) away, and by 4 inches (10 centimeters), all the squinting in the world won't let them see the object. Once an object is that close, other senses take over: their whiskers swing forward to feel what's in front of them, and their amazing sense of smell kicks in to identify the object. Still, that lack of super-close vision is why you can rustle a toy across the room and watch them immediately hone in on their feathery victim, but put a treat on the floor in front of them and they might as well be blind.

Related: Cat People vs. Dog People

How To Keep Kitty's Vision Sharp

Cats can suffer from vision problems just like we can, especially in old age. According to Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, when it comes to your cat's eyesight, the best defense is a good offense. Take kitty to regular checkups, and keep an eye out for any strange behavior, such as bumping into furniture, tripping on stairs, or having trouble finding the litter box. "Healthy feline eyes will be bright and clear, the pupils will be of equal size, and the cat will not be squinting with either eye," the experts advise. "There will be little or no tearing in the corners of the eye; the tissue lining the eyelid will be a healthy pink; and the membrane of the third eyelid will not protrude." If you spot anything, make an appointment at the vet. Early treatment can often prevent, or at least delay, worsening vision problems.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. The tapetum lucidum is a reflective surface behind the retina that helps certain animals to see in the dark. 01:00

  2. A tapetum with five layers can reflect around 75% of the light that hits it. 02:18

  3. The color of the tapetum lucidum depends on proteins, minerals, imperfections, and pigments in the eyes. 04:06

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