We’ve all had to wake up at some point during the night to get a glass of water only to stumble over our running cat, or wake up to the echoes of their long yowls.
This goes to show that while we’re sleeping our cats are living a life of their own during the late hours of the night.
But are they all as comfortable with the nighttime spookiness?
Are cats afraid of the dark?
Cats can see in low levels of light, and while they dislike complete darkness, most cats are not afraid of the dark. However, they can have a negative association with the dark, because of a traumatic experience like being captured, abused, hunted, or injured.
Let’s take a closer look at why your cat may dislike darkness and whether it’s ok to leave your kitty in the dark!
Can Cats See In The Dark?
Knowing how cat vision works might seem redundant to some, but I’ll have to agree with Jeremy Long, one of the authors of Seeing Through the Eyes of a Cat who said:
“Learning about an animal’s visual system is an important step in understanding how that type of animal perceives the world around them, and how they behave within it.”
In fact, I think many of us have held the belief that cats are nocturnal creatures and that they can see in absolute darkness, but this is only partly true.
While eye mechanics might be difficult to understand, what you need to know is that the retina is what makes our cat’s vision so different from our own.
The retina is a layer of tissue at the back of the eye and it contains cells called photoreceptors. These photoreceptors convert light rays into electrical signals which our brain translates into the images we see.
There are two types of photoreceptor cells, the first is called rods and they are responsible for night vision and detecting brightness and shades of grey. The second is called cones, and they’re responsible for day vision and color perception.
Well, according to research our cats, “have a superior ability to see in the dark because of the high number of rods in their retina that are sensitive to dim light. As a result, cats can see using roughly one-sixth the amount of light that people need.”
Can Cats Be Afraid Of The Dark?
I’m sure as children we’ve all experienced that primal fear of darkness, but even as children I think most of us associated the dark with monsters or unknown danger.
Similarly, most cats are not really afraid of the dark itself, and most of them have no particularly negative feelings towards darkness unless they have a negative connection with it based on bad past experiences.
If your cat was a stray and they’ve experience danger, like being pursued, even captured, or injured in a dark environment then they might feel uncomfortable when it gets dark. This fear can manifest itself in different ways, your kitty might suddenly start laying next to you, and in some cases, they might end up having a litter box accident.
It’s also possible that your cat got trapped in a room or an enclosed area where there was complete darkness which left them with unresolved psychological trauma.
Let’s not forget that cats can still hear even if they’re plunged in absolute darkness, in fact, they have excelled hearing and according to research “cats evolved extended high-frequency hearing without the sacrifice of low-frequency hearing.”
If you keep your house in complete darkness when you’re sleeping, then your cat might be able to hear and smell other cats and dogs lurking in the neighborhood.
More so, total lack of light is unnatural for most animals, and if your kitty has never experienced this level of darkness then it’s quite possible that they’ll feel vulnerable, uneasy, or even scared.
Are Kittens Afraid Of The Dark?
While grown cats have excellent vision, kittens are born with their eyes closed and between 8 to 12 days their eyes begin to open.
According to PetMd “at 2 weeks of age, kittens’ eyes will be fully open and baby blue. Their vision will be poor, and they will not be able to see at long distances.”
A kitten’s vision will slowly start to improve and by the time they’re 6 weeks of age they’ll have fully developed vision.
At that age, your kitten will be more aware of their surroundings. They’ll also be excited to explore the world around them so if you close the lights or leave them in an enclosed area devoid of light they could feel uncomfortable.
Your kitten will most likely bump into random objects, and while older cats might have negative associations with darkness, a kitten will most likely feel abandoned and lost.
Do Cats Like The Dark?
Cats are most active during the dawn and dusk hours because they have a crepuscular vision that helps them see in the half-light.
Most cats enjoy partial darkness because these low light conditions provide them with better cover from predators and they can sneak up on their prey. However, if we’re talking about complete darkness then most cats are more likely to feel uncomfortable.
That’s why they enjoy playing during the late hours, that’s also when their hunting instincts take over and they can show their wild side by bringing you their toys as “prey” gifts.
Is It Ok To Leave Your Cat In The Dark?
It’s best not to leave your cat in complete darkness especially if they’re afraid of the dark or being left alone because this can lead to stress and in some cases their fear can get worse over time and turn into a phobia.
If you’ve adopted your cat at a later stage in their life and you notice that they’re showing signs of fear whenever you turn off the light then they might be remembering the negative experiences that they’ve connected with the absence of light.
Despite the excellent night vision, your kitty still requires some light to see, and this ability may vary from cat to cat.
Perhaps your cat is afraid of the dark because they have poor night vision. Additionally, if you’ve recently brought them to your house, they might feel uncomfortable exploring their new home during nighttime.
Instead of closing each shutter in your house, leave a few of them open to let some natural light come in during the night. This way your kitty and kitten will be able to navigate their new surroundings.
They’ll also be able to reach the litter box that they couldn’t properly see in the dark before, as well as their food and water bowl.
Leaving a light source during the night for your cat is even more crucial when you’re away in the evenings or overnight. Your cat won’t feel as anxious in these dark surroundings, and they’ll be able to find their way around without having to meow for your assistance.
What To Do If Your Cat Is Afraid Of The Dark?
The best way to combat your cat’s fear of the dark is by leaving a low light on. I usually have a dim light turned on in the living room where I keep their food and water.
To be fair, the light also helps me find my way around the house without tripping over them or stepping on their tails accidentally.
Instead of letting the lights open around the whole house, you can instead keep a low light in the room where your cats sleep. But if your cat seems to be more scared of being left alone when it’s dark then you can let them sleep with you, or you can place their bed in the corner of the bedroom.
I’d also suggest creating a few hiding spots around the house for your cat to retreat, preferably in quiet areas. This way your kitty can feel safe from the dangers they may hear lurking in the darkness.
I’d also take your kitty to the vet to make sure the stress they’re feeling during the night isn’t health-related.
A professional veterinarian can also advise you on the ways you can reduce your cat’s overall stress that may be connected to some other trigger and not necessarily the darkness itself.
If the stress and anxiety of your kitty persist you could use a bit of catnip or a Feliway pheromone diffuser to help your kitty relax.
“In any situation creating anxiety, pheromones can help to reduce the stress felt by pets,” explains Dr. Valarie Tynes, DVM.
If you’re interested you can check the Feliway Classic diffuser on Amazon, and see the 20,000+ reviews from cat parents that found this product useful.
I’d also suggest playing with your kitty before you go to bed because by getting them as tired as possible you’ll ensure that they’ll sleep throughout the whole night and perhaps they’ll slowly start associating the late-night hours with something positive.
Do Cats Need A Light On At Night?
Since cats require some light in order to see, you could use a dim light source to help your kitty find their way around the house when it’s dark.
There are plenty of motion-activated lights that can provide your kitty with enough light to move about even when you’re asleep.
You can check out the GE Enbrighten sensor night light on Amazon, which will stay on the lowest light setting when it’s dark, but if they sense any movement they will brighten enough for your cat to see without blinding everyone else.
While it’s not a great option for the bedroom, I’d suggest keeping this light in a common room area, by the door, and at your cat’s height, so the motion-activated light can sense them come in.
Unless of course, your kitty will learn to turn the lights on and off by themselves, just like this kitty!
I also want to note that it’s important you don’t leave a bright light on during the night because this in itself can also cause other issues.
You see, cats and humans have the pineal gland that receives information about whether it’s light or dark and it’s responsible for the production of the hormone melatonin. This hormone regulates wakefulness and can be used as a sleep aid for cats and dogs alike.
You might think you’re helping your cat by keeping the lights on in the living room, or when you’re not staying at home overnight, but instead, you’re disrupting the production of melatonin, and subsequently, you might disturb their sleep.
After all, you want your cat’s sleeping pattern to be as synced with your own as possible.
I live in a central area where there are plenty of streetlights casting their cold light into my home, and I have to pull down the shutters so I can sleep. However, I always make sure to live some light peek through for my cats.
For those of you who live in rural areas where it tends to be dark, then a dim light source can help shed some light in the key rooms of your house without disrupting your sleep while keeping your cat’s fear of the dark at bay.
Why Is My Cat Mewing At Night?
Another possible reason you may be suspecting that your cat has a fear of the dark is their constant night yowling.
While mewing could be directly related to your cat’s phobia of the dark, your cat could also be in heat. As ASPCA states “females yowl to advertise their receptivity to males, and males yowl to gain access to females.”
Destructive behavior followed by excessive vocalization can also be a sign of separation anxiety, and if you keep your cat restricted in another room at night then they may be crying to get your attention.
If on the other hand, you have a senior kitty that has only been crying recently during the night then this behavior could be caused by a condition called, cognitive dysfunction, also known as dementia, or their vision could be deteriorating and you may notice their eyes change color.
Even if your kitty is mewing at night because they’re afraid of the dark, this stress they’re feeling should be dealt with. Because stress can become chronic and even lead to serious health complications.
If you notice your cat mewing at night and you can’t figure out the reason behind it, then the first thing you should do is run a full check-up at the vet.
Yowling could be caused by conditions like arthritis, bladder infections, hyperthyroidism, hypertension, etc. So, the sooner you find out the source of your cat’s pain, you’ll have more possibilities of treating it.
We, humans, have our own fears and phobias, some are the result of past trauma while others are rooted in the fear of the unknown.
Our cats can also experience fear and if your kitty is acting strange when there’s no light around, then they might be afraid of the dangers that may be lurking in that darkness.
Thankfully, you can help your kitty work through their fear by leaving a dim light on during the night and by helping them understand that they’re not alone no matter how dark it gets.
How does your kitty react to the dark, are they scared or do they end up sleeping through the night?