How Good Is A Cat’s Sight and Smell?

How Good Is A Cat’s Sight and Smell?

In an earlier post I mentioned how the Egyptians noticed that the pupils of a cat’s eyes altered according to the changing light and thought this to be magic. It was their belief that, during the hours of darkness, the cat’s eyes still reflected the sun, their sun god, ‘Ra’, in the form of a cat, working against the evil powers of darkness.

The cat is unable to see in the dark, but the pupils of its eyes contract or expand according to the strength of light and they are responsive to the merest chink of brightness. At night the pupils dilate, in daylight they diminish to the narrowest slit. If you look at a cat you will see that its eyes are centrally positioned on the head, unlike those of, for instance, the horse, which are on the side. This facility enables the cat to measure distance more accurately.

It is fascinating to watch a cat in concentration, for the pupils change shape as the cat measures the distance to its prey. Incidentally, it was believed until fairly recent times that the cat, like the dog, could see only in shades of black, white and grey. Now we understand that, if not in glorious technicolor, the cat can see certainly in diffused shades of red, green and blue.


The cat, like the dog, has a scenting facility superior to man. Both animals have what is known as a vomeronasal organ enabling it, via two ducts situated in the palate behind the upper incisor teeth, to draw odours from certain substances via the mouth to the olfactory organ. The territory marking of a cat, the scent of a bitch in season; such odours undetected by humans can be drawn by the cat and dog into the organ and influence sexual behaviour and stimulation.

Sound and scent are associated with the pleasure of taste and food; nothing, in fact, brings a cat running faster than the smell of kippers in the fry-pan coupled with the banging of a spoon against a saucer at the door. Familiar sounds and smells are linked with a sequence of events.


The cat is able to navigate, using the sun as a compass, and its timing is usually dead accurate. The cat accustomed to its owner arriving home from the office at 5.30 pm will habitually be waiting at the door, or rushing down the path to meet him. It is aware of its master’s time of rising, retiring and mealtimes. The only occasion when inaccuracies occur is when the hour goes back or forward which, in fairness, also bemuses horses and other livestock who wait at what is, after all, their customary hour, to be fed or led back to their stabling.


The strongest instinct, albeit closely followed by the need for food, is sex: the touch and comfort of the mother, the continuance and reassurance of touch and, finally, mating. The cat is particularly sensual and adores being petted -my own cat purrs, in anticipation of a caress, as soon as an approach is made in his direction.

The mother (or queen) will clean the kitten, an action which is almost a caress, and later, the cat will solicit this touch, or stroke, from its owner; will rub its head, or tail against them as an act of friendship, and maybe to mark his territorial right with an undetected scent from the temporal gland. Experiments among cats, dogs, and humans too, have proved the importance of the old-fashioned, age-old emotion love. You can feed and care for the young pet or human with the utmost diligence, but deprived of love, and the comfort of touch, they may survive but will certainly never attain their true potential.