The vision of dogs has long been debated. Contrary to what some people believe, dogs do not have terrible eyesight as a general rule.
The average canine explores the world more through their senses of smell and hearing, but that’s because these senses are even more pronounced. Just because Vincent van Gogh was a better artist than he was a writer, it doesn’t mean that his letters are not worth reading.
Let’s dig a little deeper into your dog’s eyesight and take a look at the varied quirks and foibles connected to Fido’s eyes.
Do Dogs Have Different Eyesight to Humans?
Yes, very much so – and for good reason. The vision of dogs has adapted to keep canines safe through centuries, evolving over thousands of years.
Remember that dogs were not always domesticated pets. It may be funny to imagine the furry critter that’s snoring away on your sofa hunting his or her own dinner in the wild, but back in the day, that’s how your dog would have been forced to survive. This means that your pet has fantastic long-range vision.
Due to their hunting instinct, a dog will be able to pick up movement almost twenty times further away than a human and react accordingly. This is why you may have to learn how to stop a dog from lunging on a leash – thousands of years of genetic make-up isn’t easily ignored, and many breeds will assume that something makes a sudden move is to be chased or hunted. That’s why your dog may take a sudden interest in something that you’re watching on the TV, for example – from the corner of their dozing eye, they saw something fly across the screen!
As a result of these differences, a dog’s vision is designed to serve the needs of a hunter-gatherer. That means that bright colors are of less importance to a canine, and their eyesight is designed to be most effective around the periods of dawn and dusk. They may not be able to see as many colors as humans, but they can arguably see better for their needs, with an enhanced field of peripheral vision and an innate ability to pick up on movement.
Do Dogs See in Color or Black-and-White?
Sometimes we hear an urban legend so many times that it gets taken as fact, and the idea that dogs are colorblind is a prime example. How many times has somebody told you that dogs only see in the black-and-white in the past? Enough that you have started to believe them?
As with all the best legends, this one has roots based in fact (and, to be honest, substandard scientific research). Dogs are not colorblind in the sense that they see only in shades of gray – that condition is reserved for certain sea mammals and owls. However, the average doggy eye does not enjoy quite the same spectrum of colors as a human.
When your dog takes in the same sights as you, they’re not doing so in black-and-white or monochrome. It’s more like sepia, with a number of different shades of brown involved. Rather than watching an old movie, your dog’s vision is akin to looking at an old photograph.
Why Do Dogs See a Different Color Pallet to Humans?
The human eye typically sees in a trinity of colors; red, green and blue. This is because each of these colors has their own cone within the eye, and when our sight takes in some kind of information, a message is sent to the brain at lightning speed. This is called trichromatic vision, and the combination allows the human brain to process just about every color in the spectrum.
Doggy eyes are a little different to this. The average canine has dichromatic vision, which means that they only have two cones in each cornea – and, by extension, they initially see in blue and yellow. This leads to a similar field of vision to a human being that lives with red-green colorblindness (aka deuteranopia or Daltonism), in which the eye is unable to distinguish between shades of red and green. This, in turn, means that popular colors such as red just show up as another, darker shade of brown for a dog –
Are Dogs Colorblind to Red?
So, does this mean that dogs are completely blind to the color red? When you’re flinging a ball, Frisbee or Kong toy around the backyard, is your dog looking at you with his or her head cocked to one side because they think you’re holding out on them and haven’t yet released the item?
The short answer is yes – to an extent. A red dog toy isn’t invisible to Fido, but neither does it stand out the way it does to a human. Canine eyes process red as a slightly murky shade of brown, and green as a slightly lighter shade of that same color. This is what your dog may struggle to see their beloved ball if it’s colored red and lands in the long grass,
It doesn’t matter how bright the toy is – that has no impact on your dog’s vision whatsoever. They will follow the trajectory of the ball or toy as they saw you throw it, and if they happen to be looking in exactly the right place at the right time, they may even be able to track it’s landing. If not, however, your dog will rely upon other methods of discovering the missing ball or toy – instead such as scent.
Why are Dog Toys So Often Red?
Doesn’t it seem counter-productive to manufacture so many toys in bright red when it means that a dog won’t be to see them? The reason so many people do so is that red appeals to the human being with the cash to pay for the toy in the first place.
Red is a hugely powerful color to the human eye, and almost impossible to ignore – that’s why stop signs and other important communications come in this color. When we’re browsing toys in a pet store, potentially growing overwhelmed by all the choice that surrounds us, we’ll automatically be drawn to anything in a bold red. We’ll also reason with ourselves that we’ll be able to see these toys ourselves to retrieve them when they land on green grass – even if Fido can’t.
Next time you’re tempted to pick up a red ball for your dog, give your canine a choice between a handful of other colors before you head to the checkout. You may be surprised to see that your pet picks something else entirely as they find it much easier to play with! This is the only way that so many dog toys will stop being produced in red plastic, as this is currently the most popular and bestselling color for any pet toy.
So How Many Colors Can a Dog See?
Here is a full and exhaustive list of colors dogs can see the best:
OK, so we’re being a little facetious there but the point stands – if you want your dog to be able to see their toy, stick with something that’s pure yellow or pure blue wherever possible. A conventional tennis ball is a perfect toy to use for playtime if your dog isn’t likely to chew it up in sight.
Brightness can also make a difference to your dog, as their vision is slightly blurrier than the average human. If you keep things simple and block-colored, preferably as luminous as possible, your dog will have a great time. Using color schemes that rely on blending shades of anything other than yellow and blue, however, will just result in a number of different shades of brown or black to your dog.
How Dogs See Certain Colors
Just because dogs primarily see in yellow and blue, this doesn’t mean that every other color is outside of their ability to detect. However, be aware that dogs don’t see colors that same way that we do. For example…
- When a Human Sees Red, a Dog Sees Dark Brown
- When a Human Sees Orange, a Dog Sees Light Brown
- When a Human Sees Green, a Dog Sees Yellow or Gold
- When a Human Sees Purple or Pink, a Dog Sees Blue
Your dog will notice that there are different colors and shades around them, even though it may take them a while. If you’re looking for a quick reaction and some kind of visual stimulus, however, it’s only pure yellow and pure blue that’s identical to both human and canine eyesight.
What Color is a Dog Most Attracted To?
As we have previously established, blue and yellow will never fail to get a dog’s attention.
Try a little experiment at home – take two freshly laundered towels that do not have any familiar scents for your dog, one in blue or yellow and another in a different shade, and lay them both on the ground.
Point them both out to your furry friend, and take a look at which once they gravitate toward. We’re willing to wager it’s the blue or yellow because these are clearly visible to Fido and something new and thus worth investigating!
The same goes when picking out a new toy for your dog to play with. Go yellow or blue, and you’ll find that Fido is keen to go whizzing all over the park, backyard or living room chasing whatever you have been playing with.
Dog Vision at Night
While dogs cannot distinguish between colors as well as a human in the broad daylight, their superior night vision makes up for this. The science behind this is because although dogs have just two cones in their eyes, they have more rods within the same organs.
While cones help dogs and humans to process and understand colors, rods allows the retina to sort through the information it receives when faced with darkness and enable a dog to make sense of what it can see. This means that gloomy lighting will not deter a canine, and they will be able to negotiate their way through a home long after the human inhabitants have turned out the lights.
Can a Dog See in the Dark?
Yes. As we have previously established, doggy vision is designed to be at its strongest while the sun is either rising or setting, but the average canine will be able to considerably better at night than a human would.
This is hardly surprising when we consider that dogs evolved from wolves – who are, of course, nocturnal by their nature. The shape of a dog’s head also allows more light into the eye, which means that a dog can see up to five times better than a human in dim light. These reflected lights are why we can sometimes see a dog’s eyes from far away.
Despite this, remember that dogs will not always be able to see exactly what is unfolding ahead of them in the pitch darkness. If you’ve noticed that your canine gets jittery when out for an evening stroll, it’s because they can see movement from far away (whether that’s a car, a cat, another dog or a human out for an evening stroll) and they’ll react accordingly.
Should I Wear a High-Vis Jacket When Walking a Dog?
It can be helpful to anybody to do so – not only will it keep you safe from traffic when walking at night, but the shade of yellow will ensure that your dog can always detect you, no matter how far away they may stray.
The same could also apply to a dog, especially if you have two or more animals being walked together. Dressing them up in canine-specific high vis jackets will ensure that each and every member of the pack is easily located by the other dogs without relying on scent alone.
Do Dogs Have 20/20 Vision?
No, not in the way that a human would consider 20/20 vision to be perfect eyesight. Then again, dogs don’t need 20/20 vision to operate at their highest capacity.
As we have already discussed, a dog’s eyesight is engineered and evolved to detect movement from a distance and react accordingly and to be able to make sense of the world at night when humans struggle to detect their own hand in front of their face.
A dog’s eyesight is more like 20/75. Taking Fido to the ophthalmologist would result in his not being able to read the eye test chart beyond the third line (and a lot of people pointing and whispering, as it’s slightly strange behavior to take a dog to such a healthcare professional), and dogs are somewhat near-sighted by their very nature.
Don’t worry about this – dogs see perfectly well for how they need to, and unless they are showing signs of going blind, there’s nothing to be concerned about.
Signs That Your Dog Is Losing Their Vision
There are a number of ways that you may be able to tell your dog is starting to lose their eyesight, from the obvious to the more subtle.
Some of these indicators include:
- Clumsiness and bumping into inanimate objects such as furniture or food and water bowls.
- Growling and uncharacteristic aggression towards other dogs, caused by an inability to see a potential playmate approaching and panicking upon realizing that another canine is suddenly up close and personal.
- Anxiety, depression, and lethargy,
- Walking strangely – either shuffling reluctantly or making huge, prominent strides with their gait.
- Keeping their nose to the ground constantly, as though relying on smell to find their way.
- Having difficulty playing, such as catching or chasing a ball, etc.
- Whining for toys that are very close by and not out of reach.
- Swollen, red or cloudy eyes with enlarged pupils.
If you can identify with any of these symptoms and you’re worried about your dog’s eyesight, it’s worth consulting with a vet to set any concerns at rest. There could be a temporary reason for these vision problems, or it could be a warning sign of a longer-term condition – including permanent blindness.
Remember, though, just because your dog is not catching or returning the red ball you bought them during a game of fetch that’s no need to rush them to the vet. Ensure that your concerns do not pertain exclusively to the restrictions of canine color vision before you panic!
Illnesses That Cause Blindness in Dogs
There are a number of health concerns and conditions that can to blindness in dogs – both in terms of color and general sight.
- Cushing’s Disease
- Suddenly Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (SARDS)
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
Not all of these conditions can be cured, and the loss of vision that comes with them may not always be reversible. As with anything related to canine health, however, early intervention always greatly enhances your chances of a positive result.
The same also applies if your dog has encountered some kind of accident that had a physical impact – being poked in the eye for a tree branch or a small person’s finger, for example, or dislodging a retina following an impact injury. In any such scenario, make sure your dog receives medical attention as quickly as possible.
What’s the Difference in Vision for Puppies and Senior Dogs?
Naturally, very old and young dogs will also have varying experiences when it comes to their vision. Puppies enter the world with their eyes glued shut and they won’t open them for a couple of weeks, meaning that they are technically blind until they are a few weeks old.
As dog’s age, they also run the risk of losing their sight naturally as the muscles in their eyes degenerate. Just like humans, an older dog may find their vision falling away, but unlike humans, Fido cannot pop on a pair of reading glasses and get on with this day. Your dog may find this easier to deal with than a sudden onset of blindness through disease, as they will learn to rely on their other senses to get through their day.
In these situations, night vision is usually the first thing to suffer. If your dog is lacking in motivation to get outside once the sun has gone down, and they seem to be struggling to distinguish between the toys that once brought them so much joy, it may be time to concede that your dog can’t see quite as well as they used to.
Dogs That are Genetically Pre-Disposed to Poor Vision
Some dog breeds are more likely than others to lose their eyesight as they grow older.
Canines at particular risk include:
- Great Danes
- Bassett Hounds
- Siberian Huskies
If you have any of these critters as a family pet, be particularly vigilant about ensuring that their eyes remain in good health and take them for regular check-ups with your vet. Just like human beings, dogs should start to undertake regular testing as they grow older to make sure that the degradation of their vision is nothing beyond conventional wear and tear.
Eyesight may not be the primary sense that a dog uses to negotiate the world, but canines have a fascinating relationship with their vision. While it’s sadly true that Fido may never get to understand and experience the full majesty of a rainbow, dogs never fail to make the most of the limited spectrum of colors available to them.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that they don’t know the difference between all the rich and varied range of colors in the world. Next time you enjoy a summer’s day that’s blessed with a clear blue sky, take your dog to a local park packed with green grass and allow them to chase a bright yellow tennis ball all over the field. You can then bask in the knowledge that you have provided your beloved pooch with a fantastic sensory experience that they will cherish.