White cat looking at the sky

Hues and Mews: What Colors Do Cats Like?

Have you ever wondered what your cat’s favorite color is? Is there even a way or method to determine this? I mean, it’s not like we can ask the cat! So let’s try to guess using a little science.

As it turns out, cats aren’t able to see a wide range of colors as their eyes are different from ours. Cats don’t visually perceive color in the same way as humans, who see colors more vibrantly.

Cats are known to have a limited ability to see color as compared to humans, mostly because their eyes are not biologically the same as ours. They are known to be partially colorblind, because they cannot detect red hues, only blues and greens.

Some research has suggested that cats may see the world in a way that is very similar to a human that is colorblind. Most colorblind people can see shades of blues and greens, but not shades of red. This is how cats see colors.

Cats do tend to have a better ability to view a range of colors as compared to dogs, but still see most colors as muted. Other than hues of blue or green, cats see shades of gray.

So, the most likely answer to the question, “what colors do cats like?”, is blue and green!

Let’s talk about how cats see colors in a different way than you or I.

What Do Colors Look Like to Cats?

Simply put, colors look different to cats than they do to humans. As discussed above, cats only see shades of green and blue so when your cat looks at something red, it will see something very different (see chart below). If the object is green or blue, your cat will see a muted version of that green or blue hue.

Interestingly, if an object is yellow, the cat may see it as a shade of blue or green.

Color Principles for Cats

Cat vs human color perception
Color perception: human (full color spectrum) vs cat (blues and greens)

Remember that green is made by combining yellow and blue.

GREEN = YELLOW (a color your cat cannot see) + BLUE (a color your cat can see)

And remember that your cat can only see green and blue. But the green a cat sees doesn’t look the same to them as it does to humans. It’s muted because the cat sees yellow differently.

Your cat therefore sees yellow things as a shade of green or blue because there is blue and yellow light in anything green.

The cat can’t see the yellow, but can see the blue. And the effect of blue and yellow (a color your cat can’t see) is what they would observe as green.

When your cat sees a purple object, they will see it as blue, since purple is made from blue and red, and your cat can detect those blue hues.

Therefore, your cat can detect some of the color in a green or purple object because these colors each contain a color your cat can see.

This is not the case, for instance, when a cat observes a red object, because red does not have blue or green tones.

What Does It Mean to Be Colorblind?

Cats can detect colors in much the same way as colorblind people. When people have colorblindness, they are often able to detect certain colors based on the shades of gray they see. Cats are able to see some shades of blue and green, but most shades of red will be seen as some version of gray.

Can Your Cat See a Range of Colors?

There are two types of receptor cells in the retinas of the eyes of mammals — rods and cones. Like humans, cats have rods and cones in the retinas of their eyes. Cones help transfer light into color, while rods are important for black and white distinction.

Eyes: Cones Described

There are three different types of cones that detect colors, and these can be divided into cones that perceive red, blue, and green hues. Humans have far more cones in their eyes than cats. Humans also have all three different types of cones, allowing them to see a full range of colors that are made up from red, blue, and green light, which is referred to as trichromatic vision (seeing three colors).

Cats, on the other hand, only have two sets of cones, limiting the range of colors to only the blue and green hues, and the number of rods in their eyes is far greater than the number of cones. This results in a greater ability to distinguish black and white tones (and brightness) than colors. This arrangement of rods and cones leads to what is known as dichromatic vision (seeing two colors).

Eyes: Rods Described

Rods are also the cells that are responsible for night vision and peripheral vision, two areas in which cats are particularly strong — especially when compared with humans. With rods outnumbering cones by a landslide, cats can do amazing things in very low levels of light. Rods help with the low light, but don’t really contribute to helping with color — other than black and white.

Now, although your cat does not clearly see a range of colors, they are not necessarily focused on the color of objects or prey anyway. Cats are naturally attracted to movement, which is why you may notice that your kitty becomes super vigilant when they detect even the smallest motion. Whether they notice a mouse quickly scurrying across the floor, or you begin playing with them using a string toy, it is not the color of the thing that is attracting their attention, but instead the movement.

When you watch your kitty hunt and play, does it seem that they have excellent vision? They do, but what your cat sees differs many ways from what we see as humans. And, their excellent vision is limited to nearsighted-ness, because cats do not have very good distance vision.

Even though your cat cannot clearly detect colors, they can usually visually separate objects from each other using their ability to detect motion. It’s not always easy to tell exactly what your cat is seeing when you observe their behavior, but if you pay close attention you may notice the pattern of them being attracted specifically to movement, because even very slight movements that humans tend to ignore can get a cat’s attention!

Your Cat’s Special Power: Night Vision

Even without being able to clearly distinguish colors, cats are still able to see very well, especially at night, because they are highly sensitive to brightness. Cats require about 20% (or less) of the light that humans need to see clearly. This is why your cat is able to see so well at night.

Night vision is truly a super power of cats. This amazing ability to have such sharp night vision definitely makes up for the fact that your cat does not see vibrant colors. This is what makes cats such terrific hunters, even in the dark!

What Exactly Do Cats See?

Take a look at the below image. The top portion is what humans see and below it is the same image as cats would see it.

Human sight vs cat sight
Vision comparison: what humans see vs. what cats see

This video explains in greater detail how cats see.

Conclusion

Would you like to choose toys for your kitty based on their preference of color? Now that you understand what colors cats see — and how they see, you can delight your feline friend with something more appealing.

While knowing what their truly favorite color is can be tricky (it’s not like you can ask them!), remember that they generally see only a few colors, and blue and green are perceived most clearly. This makes either blue or green a cat’s favorite color!

Instead of being too focused on what color they like, remember what their visual strengths are — such as perceiving movement — and make sure you get them the toys that are able to wiggle and jiggle a bit to entertain them!

Experiment to find out if your cat is more naturally drawn to blue and green to make things even more interesting. As you play more and more with your kitty, you will both have fun trying out new colors and new types of moving toys!