Cats Have Super, Psychedelic Vision

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A new study has found that cats and dogs may be able to see in ultraviolet. Science already knew that birds, insects, reptiles and fish can all detect UV light. Now it seems that more animals share this ability than thought. Researchers hope that the new data will allow them to understand how animal vision influences what animals do.

Cats, Dogs Have 'Superpower' Vision: Study

Given their sleek ways, cats have long been a symbol of mysticism, and now the reputation gets a boost from new research that finds common house cats see things that are invisible to us.

Everything from psychedelic stripes on flowers to flashy patterned feathers on birds are likely detectable by cats and certain other animals, while humans remain oblivious to such things. We are also -- perhaps luckily -- missing out on seeing a whole world of urine markers blanketing the landscape.

The secret behind the feline vision "superpower" is ultraviolet light (UV) detection. A new paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that cats, dogs and certain other animals see this form of light that is usually invisible to humans.

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"There are many examples of things that reflect UV, which UV sensitive animals could see that humans can't," co-author Ronald Douglas told Discovery News. "Examples are patterns on flowers that indicate where nectar is, urine trails that lead to prey, and reindeer could see polar bears as snow reflects UV, but white fur does not."

A reindeer, a cat and a dog could therefore probably see a white-furred animal, such as a bunny, hopping through a snow blizzard, while most people would just see a blur of all white.

Douglas, a professor of biology at City University London specializing in the visual system, and co-author Glen Jeffery, a professor of neuroscience at University College London, determined that cats, dogs, rodents, hedgehogs, bats, ferrets and okapis all detect substantial levels of UV.

"It has been known for nearly a hundred years that many invertebrates, such as bees, see UV," Douglas said, adding that birds, fish, and some reptiles and amphibians were added to the list in more recent decades.

"However," he added, "it was assumed that most mammals do not see UV because they have no visual pigment maximally sensitive in the UV and (instead possess) lenses like those of man, that prevent UV reaching the retina."

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He explained that visual pigments are the substances that absorb light and turn it into the electrical activity that nerve cells transmit. They turn out not to be always necessary for UV sensitivity. Instead, the "ocular media" (transparent parts of the eye like the cornea and crystalline lens) in certain animals transmits UV wavelengths.

The ability allows more light to reach the retina, "which would be good for a nocturnal cat," Douglas said.

The skill might also help to explain why cats become obsessed with unusual objects, like sheets of paper.

Man-made optical brighteners are sometimes added to paper, fabrics, laundry detergents, cosmetics and shampoos to make them appear brighter. Since optical brighteners absorb light in the UV spectrum, they might appear different, or stand out more, to UV-sensitive animals.

Certain people, such as those who have had their lenses replaced during cataract surgery, can see at least some UV, but most humans cannot.

"We do all assume that it (UV) may be harmful," Jeffery told Discovery News. "I work a lot in the Arctic where UV levels can be very high, particularly in spring and early summer when there is still a lot of snow and ice. These surfaces reflect 90 percent of the UV, so the animals are exposed from above and below. If you do not have snow goggles on, your eyes hurt within 15 minutes."

Studies on reindeer, however, find that repeated exposure to UV doesn't bother them at all.

Cats, reindeer and other animals built to detect UV might be protected from this visual damage in some way. It's also thought that UV light tends to create more blurry images.

"Now, if there is one thing humans are good at, it's seeing detail," Douglas said. "Perhaps that's why they have a lens that removes the UV. If they didn't, the world would appear more blurred."

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to linda! you are so right! after one of our dogs died one of our other dogs was standing at the end of the hall wagging her tailand looking to the end of the hall. there is a glass door down there and i looked to see why she was wagging and looking down there. reflected was the image of our dog that had just passed away. he was saying goodbye and im glad i didnt miss it and neither did she....

February 21 2014 at 12:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have been visiting my daughter who has a male cat. A few nights ago, i was sitting at my computer, Bo was on my lap. All of a sudden he looked up over my left shoulder and stared for the longest time. I noticed that his pupils had become extremely large. I had the feeling he was seeing something that I couldn't see.

February 20 2014 at 11:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Lord, help me be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.

February 20 2014 at 10:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Both dogs and cats have amazing senses that we either don't have or we take for granted. When I was pregnant, my dog stayed by my side the entire time and even alerted me when a contraction was coming on. I had 2 cats (brother and sister) who didn't seem to be very close but when his sister had an epilepic seizure, he would always be there protecting her. He even laid on top of her two times when she seized outside on the deck - he didn't want her to fall off..........take that all you non- believers!

February 20 2014 at 10:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When my dog died in my arms I saw a whitish shadow jump from her body and dash away. Just because YOU dont see something it doesn't mean it's not there.

February 20 2014 at 10:14 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cnewyork01's comment

What you saw was the dog's spirit (life force) departing. I have video taped this phenomenon twice after the death of my 21 year cat. See for yourself:
These are genuine videos

February 20 2014 at 10:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jane Kondrad

We did not now my husband had cancer, but our dog kept jumping up and licking his cheek.
We found out he had cancer in his jaw- the same one our dog kept licking. We believe he was trying to tell us something and no skeptic will convince us otherwise!!!

February 20 2014 at 7:43 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jane Kondrad's comment
Michele and Joe

I believe it! My cats always knew I was pregnant before I was (they snuggled up to my belly nonstop, purring and rubbing), and when I lost a baby they also knew before me (stopped that behavior). I had tendonitis in my wrist and my cat would lick it all the time until it finally felt better, now he no longer goes near it.

February 20 2014 at 9:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Cats rule the house!

February 20 2014 at 5:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So now we really know who is running the white house. It 's the pets.

February 20 2014 at 5:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Animals are amazing. They are intuitive and connect to their humans. I won't use the term "spirits" now will I "dispute it." How is it animals (though have had many cats, dogs are my love), how do we explain many things they do that go beyond mere reaction. Dogs attach. At least many do--my experience. How do you explain animals, esp. dogs, just know when it's time for their human friends to return home from their job? I just know they do. Why do they bond in the ways they do? Sure, there is training, but where there isn't, they automatically react to danger or sense needs of humans (children and adults)? Instead of getting away, they stick to sick, injured, disabled - even when it means they may and often lose their lives. Service dogs: used by military, go into hospitals, nursing homes, and offer comfort, companionship, protection..... Yes, training is vital for dogs used as service dogs. This is one area. Nursing an old dog who has had two surgeries, receiving chemo after a cancerous tumor removed, my dog was half inside,, half outside. Beginning before her problems, I was "down w/shingles" for close to a yr. Dog stayed near me. Now w/her own health issues and unknown outcome though we are trying to do all we can, she follows me wherever I am. In kitchen where she isn't particularly fond of remaining, she keeps coming in as if to let me know she wants me to join her. Because I am w/her most, it's most apparent w/me. But she does same w/my husband. Now a grandson and his girlfriend are here a lot and she's bonded w/them. She is going to sleep wherever "her people are."
Had one dog who would suddenly stand, stare at a space (usually a wall), hair straight up on her back and shaking. What caused this? I don't know but don't shrug off such behavior. So, I admit I believe we have angels and spirits all around us whether we know or not. Too many times I as well as others have things happen which are warnings as it turns out. Grandson took a picture of a road young people like to visit (I've never been there but hear young people talk about) and after viewing a picture he'd taken of his truck, it was obvious there was a person under a back wheel. Told I might have said "oh, you just thought you saw....." But pictures don't lie. He, his mother and others still have the picture which so clearly shows there is a figure right where I stated. I had proof my mother had visited me during the night after her death. Pictures did not clearly show but finding what a friend had said and having some things I was told to watch told the story. Husband observed. No, I'm not some "nutty" person, but intuitive as was my mother, my older daughter, we've known things before they occurred or suspicioned. Anytime my mother called me from another town (my home town) and began conversation, then said "Ok, what's wrong, what is going on?" She was always on target. Had no way of hearing from anybody else. Experience: believing.

February 20 2014 at 4:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Linda's comment

Spirits are the life forces that exist in more than just this third dimension. Once they depart the physical host body they return to the fourth (and higher) dimensional planes. On occasion, they do appear to us in the third dimension. However, certain photographic equipment can record there presence. I have had more experiences with older analogy type camcorders than digital, which seem to have limited ranges.
My case in point. See:
I have seen my cats stare, even paw at a blank wall. Then suddenly stop as quick as they started. I have also seen them chase something unseen across the floor. There is far, far more to existence than humans will ever understand

February 20 2014 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Humans can see near UV. After the next storm, look at the rainbow. Next to the violet end, is a dim gray band. It is so dim that we are not aware and therefore, do not use it.

February 20 2014 at 4:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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