Lights On Or Off At Night?

Owners often wonder whether or not they should leave a light on for their cats at night or when they leave the house.

And many do so, under the assumption that the cat will get lonely or struggle to cope in the dark. So what’s the answer?

Should I Turn Off the Lights for My Cat?

Yes, there shouldn’t usually be a problem. Cats have much better night vision than people, which allows them to see better in dimly-lit environments.

While there’s always the temptation to humanise or infantilise our pets (we all do it!), rest assured that your cat will be just fine in the dark, provided there’s some kind of light source.

On the other hand, leaving your cat in a pitch-black room really isn’t a good idea, as we’ll explain later.

For now though, let’s take a closer look at the biology behind feline night vision.

Close-Up of A Cat's Eyes

Why are Cats’ Night Vision So Good?

People often ask whether or not cats can see in the dark. Well, they can’t really. But they’re great at seeing in low-light environments and certainly have superior night vision to human beings.

Rod Cells

One of the reasons that cats enjoy better night vision is because their eyes contain a larger number of rod cells. In contrast to cone cells, rod cells help with night and peripheral vision.

Cats have these rod receptors in abundance. In fact, our feline friends have up to eight times more rod cells than we do, enabling them to detect light at low levels.

For human beings, it’s the other way around. We possess more cone cells that allow us to perceive more colours.

Larger Corneas and Pupils

Cats also possess larger corneas. According to some academics, these can be up to 50% larger than ours. What’s more, their pupils are able to dilate to full circles, thus allowing more light to pass through their eyes and on to the retina.

The Tapetum Lucidum

A cat’s night sight is helped further by a membrane called the tapetum lucidum. Located behind the retina, the tapetum lucidum is the reason why your cat’s eyes often glow in the dark.

Once the light has passed through the retina, the tapetum lucidum reflects the light back onto it.

This effectively provides the light-sensitive cells in the retina with another chance to catch photon-photoreceptors. This enables cats to see well in low-light conditions.

Lights Off If There’s a Light Source

Considering the above information then, there’s not really much need to leave the lights on for your cat. Be be sure to check before you retire for the night or go out that your cat has a light source of some kind.

This really shouldn’t be much of a problem, though. Even when all the lights in your home are off, there’s almost always some kind of residual light, be it a window, street light or even a stand-by light on a television.

Even the latter would be sufficient enough for your cat’s vision. The tapetum lucidum will be able to reflect the light, however dim, back into the cat’s retina.

With all this being said, there are some instances in which you may want to leave a light on.

Kittens, New Cats and Seniors

If you own a kitten, leaving on a lamp or keeping one room illuminated is probably advisable, should you decide to go out.

At this age, young felines are going to need some reassurance about their surroundings.

If they see you as their surrogate parent, they’re going to get stressed by your absence too. So keeping a light on might help them relax.

The same applies to senior cats that get stressed due to disorientatation. as well as newly-acquired felines that are unfamiliar with their new home.

If you’ve acquired one from a shelter, he may have negative associations with dark spaces or being left alone.

Leaving the lights off may cause undue stress and anxiety, even if there is a light source.

Cat at Night

Don’t Leave Your Cat in Total Darkness

Although they’re known as creatures of the night, cats are actually crepuscular animals – that is, they’re most active during dawn and dusk. A

nd, as we’ve seen, their eyes have evolved to work best during dimly-lit hours as opposed to night time.

Because they need a light source, leaving your cat in total darkness really isn’t a very good idea.

It’s likely that your cat will become stressed and may even panic.

What Kind of Lights do Cats Like?

If you’re determined to leave some kind of light on at night or when you go out, think about investing in one that emits low levels of light in colours that will calm your cat.

As you’ll see, there’s an entire science behind this as well!

Calming Colours

Cats are red-green colour blind meaning that they’ll have some difficulty in telling the difference between orange, brown, purple and red.

However, they’re photoreceptors are sensitive to light wave lengths with blue-violet and green-yellow tones. These are known to reduce stress in cats.

In fact, vet practices use these shades in the decor of their premises for the calming effects on felines. So if you want to push the boat out, you might consider purchasing a light with a blue-violet hue.

Leaving the TV On

You could also consider leaving the television on when you leave the house. For felines, the sound of the TV as well as other everyday sounds can be a source of reassurance, giving them the impression that you’re in residence.

Final Thoughts

To summarise, it’s not necessary to leave a light on for your cat when you go out or leave the house.

Nonetheless, if you’re the owner of a kitten, an elderley cat or nervous feline, you might consider using soft lighting when you’re away from your home.

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