Should I Give My Cat a Night Light?

Picture of a cat in the dark

Many cat owners believe that, because cats are semi-nocturnal, they can see in the dark and don’t need any help doing so at night. The truth is, cats can’t see if there is no light at all – they do need a little bit of light to be able to see in the dark. Just how much light do cats need to be able to see at night? Should you provide a night light for your cat? Let’s examine this idea in more detail.

How Is My Cat’s Vision Different from Mine?

A cat has a different type of vision than a human has. To cats, objects look blurry unless they are close to them. Cats see a washed-out version of the world, with muted colors and less reds. However, they do have a much wider field of vision and can see 200 degrees around them (as opposed to the human field of sight, which is 180 degrees). Their large eyes are also quite sensitive to movement and can detect the most subtle of movements quickly. (That’s why it’s not a good idea to try to sneak up on a cat!)

After dark, a cat’s sight becomes even more clear. In small amounts of light that would leave us humans floundering around, cats can see pretty clearly. They can avoid obstacles and see prey. The pupil of the cat’s eye narrows in bright sunlight, and widens in darkness, making the most of every bit of light it takes in. In addition, their irises are flexible, and the retina has a higher rod count than humans’ eyes.

The tapetum, located behind the retina of the cat’s eye, is reflective, throwing back the light it receives in order to maximize the amount of light the cat uses to see. This is what causes a cat’s eyes to glow in the dark.

How Much Light Do Cats Need at Night?

According to cat experts, cats need some light to be able to see at night, but not as much as humans need. Cats’ eyes are sensitive and they therefore need just one-sixth the amount of light that we need in order to be able to see in the dark.

So, it’s really ok to turn all the lights out in your home before bed. Your cat won’t need anything beyond the residual light coming in the windows from outside in order to be able to see and navigate in the dark. If it is very dark where you live, you could install a small nightlight for kitty, just to make it easier for her to see. Most homes, however, have some sources of light even when all the lights are turned off, such as digital clocks or light indicators on power strips, which are sufficient to allow a cat to see well in the dark.

Remember, a cat doesn’t solely rely upon its eyes to navigate in the dark. Its whiskers are a sensory organ that detects the presence of objects and allows cats to avoid them. This is why cats who are born blind can still adjust to finding their way around their environment, using whiskers and their excellent hearing. The cat’s sense of smell is also acute, helping her to find her food and water bowls and litter box in the dark.

If All of This Is True, Why Does My Cat Cry When I Turn Out the Lights and Go to Bed?

Do you have a kitty that hates to be alone? Does she start meowing after you’ve turned out all the lights in the house and gone to bed? This is not necessarily because she can’t see in the dark. There are many reasons why your cat might start singing (or whining) at bedtime:

  • Your cat wants attention. Especially for cats who crave human contact, bedtime can be traumatic. One solution is to let your cat sleep in your room. Leave your bedroom door cracked a bit so that she can get in and out as she pleases. If she disrupts your sleep, however, it’s ok to keep your door closed and just let your cat “cry it out.” After a few nights, she’ll get the idea that you’re not going to cave into her demands. Try leaving a small light, or night light, on and see if it helps.
  • Your cat isn’t tired. Cats who don’t get enough exercise during the day will often display anxiety at night. Before bed, spend at least 15 minutes playing with your cat, getting her active with toys like fishing poles with feathers on them. Some people swear by exercising their cat, feeding their cat, then going to bed as a prescription for a good night’s sleep for themselves (and for their cat). Keeping your cat from being lethargic 24 hours a day will also help to keep her healthy.
  • Your cat feels alone. Your cat might be used to having noises and light around her all day long – the television, the radio, her family’s voices. Maybe she just misses your affection. A night light turned on at bedtime can give your cat the feeling that she’s not alone. If you’ve tried all of the above and your cat is still crying at night, install a night light or leave a small light on for her. Even a timed light might work; set it to turn off an hour or two after you go to bed.
  • Your cat has a health problem. Cats that have trouble seeing in the dark could have an eye disorder. They could also be anxious, or have other health problems. When all else fails, take your cat to the vet for a checkup. Sometimes a simple anxiety medication can be the solution to allow you, and your cat, to sleep well at night.

Interesting Facts About Cat Night Vision

  • In medieval Japan, the shape of a cat’s pupils was used to tell time!
  • Cats aren’t considered to be nocturnal – rather, they are crepuscular, meaning that they are at their most active at dusk and dawn. This evolutionary trait goes back to when they were in the wild, and their prey was most active during these times.
  • Cats are near-sighted, unable to focus well on distant objects.
  • The colors red and green look like grey to cats.
  • Cats can see in the ultraviolet range of colors, which appear dark to human eyes.

Some Final Thoughts

If you ever have to leave your cat alone for a few nights, consider hiring a pet sitter to stay with her. Night lights are great, but they are no substitute for human contact.

Installing a night light isn’t the worst idea in the world, for you or for your cat. It might even help you avoid tripping over your kitty in the middle of the night!

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Susan Maphis

Susan Maphis

Susan Maphis lives in the northeastern corner of Maryland with her husband, daughter, dog (Lenore) and cat (Tabby). She has been a freelance writer and editor for over 20 years. Her work includes academic pieces, news and feature writing, blogging, briefs, educational writing, and reviews.

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