View Full Version : Do cats have depth perception? (i.e., does my cat know not to walk off the balcony)

10-11-2002, 09:15 PM
I live in a second floor apartment with a balcony and occasionally let my two cats out (while I'm out there). They go over to the railing, put their heads through the bars and look out (and down), but don't appear to want to go any further. This makes my s.o. nervous, as he thinks they don't experience depth perception and might just keep on walking. I know there are many cases of cats having fallen from windows and balconies, but why they fell is another matter. So, do my two girls "know" somehow that they shouldn't step off the balcony, or do I need to keep a close watch on them when they're out there?

10-11-2002, 09:53 PM
I'd think they do, else they'd fall out of trees by the hundreds.
I wouldn't say not to watch them, though, because something might happen in the one in a thousand chance.

10-11-2002, 09:53 PM
All animals that have two eyes which point straight ahead (includes most mammals I think) have depth perception.

Cats are very adept at jumping to and from things, which would indicate they are good at judging distances and heights.

10-11-2002, 10:04 PM
Maybe this is a depth perception problem, and maybe not, but I know of a cat that had to be kept from a second story porch because it mistook a high bush with a fairly uniform surface for something solid.

carnivorousplant's got a point that cats must have some smarts about lethal heights in general, tho.

Whether a house cat can correctly judge an unfamiliar distance seems like an open question.

Bryan Ekers
10-11-2002, 10:10 PM
Cats can and do fall, so while they might be okay walking up to and around the balcony, I wouldn't deliberately make any loud or startling noises that might get the cat to twitch and plunge. They can easily slip on smooth surfaces (yell at one while he's standing on a slick floor and watch him skid like a bald-tired dragster).

At the very least, a cat's ability to stalk and catch mice displays visual acuity.

Having eyes pointed forward (and depth perception) is typical among mammal predators (including cats and humans), while prey animals have outward-facing eyes and better visual range.

Gary T
10-11-2002, 10:25 PM
Heavens yes they have depth perception. If they didn't they wouldn't be able to judge the distance to their prey, and the cat family would have starved to death eons ago.

Maybe this is a depth perception problem, and maybe not, but I know of a cat that had to be kept from a second story porch because it mistook a high bush with a fairly uniform surface for something solid.
Not a depth perception problem, but a familiarity problem. Our cat tried to jump from the ground to a hedgetop. To her, it looked like any table, chair, or countertop. Didn't hold her. She didn't try again.

10-11-2002, 10:31 PM
Ever see a cat nail a moving and/or suspended object?

Yes, they (almost always) have better eyesight, including depth perception) than humans.
The exception is a cat which is blind in one eye, and even they can fake it once they know the layout.

Cats can fall - I knew one which sat on the wooden (2x4) railing of a 20-foot high deck and swatted at a hummingbird - he lost his balance and died, but he did not jump (yes, he was a stupid cat).

If the cats don't climb the rail, they are cool (a thin steel rail is not going to attract a cat).

10-11-2002, 10:55 PM
Cats have depth perception. That's not the problem. The problem is that cats don't always have the best common sense. My cat would love to walk out on the fire escape. I know that he will not try to leap to ground level from the fourth floor. He can sense the depth of that fall. I cannot swear, however, that he will refrain from chasing a pigeon right off the edge. Which is why he can't go out on the fire escape.

Crazy-assed cat.

10-11-2002, 11:05 PM
Oh, I didn't even think about the tree climbing when my s.o. brought up the issue of depth perception. Seeing them peer out between the railing and looking down, I felt it wasn't a problem, but was concerned they might instinctively leap out at a bird or be distracted by something on the ground. I'll let them out when the birds aren't flying around and be watchful. Thanks everyone for the input.

10-12-2002, 01:07 PM
I remember reading once something about cats' sense of perception - it discussed putting a cat on top of a mirror outside. The cat would look down, feel like it had only sky beneath it and freak out. I would assume then that they do have some degree of depth perception.

10-12-2002, 02:06 PM
I wonder how dangerous jumping from the second floor is to a healthy cat. My parents have had a number of cats over the years, and every so often one of them would escape via an open second story window. None was ever injured by the stunt.

10-12-2002, 02:18 PM
They'd probably survive, probably without damage, but I don't want to take a chance. Cats have fallen from much greater heights and survived. If mine did jump without injury, I'd then have to be concerned about what they'd do next! Both of mine are strictly indoor cats, one is pretty timid, and there's no telling what they'd do on the loose. I'd be afraid I wouldn't be able to get them back.

10-12-2002, 02:19 PM
A friend of mine had a cat that, while chasing his brother, lunged and went straight out a 5th story window.

He suffered a broken leg and a chipped tooth. Within a week he was up and chasing his brother again, but the windows had screens on them.

The vet had told her that he probably wouldn't have had as severe injuries if he had fallen from a higher height. Apparently, cats have the highest rate of fatalities from falls between 2 stories and 7 stories.

Googling around I came up with this:


10-12-2002, 03:48 PM
We have a loft in our bedroom that our cats love to go onto (there are stairs leading up to it). They stick their heads in between the railing and stare down at us, since the bed is right underneath. And get your perverted minds out of the gutter, since they do this when we're watching TV and sleeping, too.

Anyway, my girlfriend woke up one morning just in time to see one of the cats fall from just that position, and it landed right on me. No bird to lunge at, no insects, nothing but a stupid cat that fell and got really lucky. I'd keep an eye on those cats while they're on the balcony...

10-12-2002, 10:09 PM
Cecil Adams has discussed cats' ability to survive falls from various heights. Do cats always land unharmed on their feet, no matter how far they fall? (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a5_190.html)