Can Dogs See Color?

Dog with sunglasses seeing the world

It’s normal for dog owners to wonder about the senses of their pets. We know dogs have a better sense of smell than we have, but what about what they see? Do dogs distinguish colors, for example?

There’s been plenty of research done into the colors dogs can see. Although we don’t have the entire picture, there’s a lot we do know. Read on if you want an answer to the question, “Can dogs see color,” and learn about color blindness in dogs.

Which Colors Do Dogs See?

Special cells and receptors known as rods and cones make up parts of the eye. Rods take care of detecting motion and helping our vision differentiate varying shades of light. Cones help us to distinguish colors.

Humans have 3 kinds of cones, but dogs only have two. Most people can usually identify 3 color combinations. These are red, blue, and green. Dogs, on the other hand, have a limit of just 2 color combinations: yellow and blue. We, therefore, refer to dog color vision as being dichromate, or “2-colored.”

Color Blindness Explained

Color blindness in dogs refers to an inability to distinguish between colors or even to see particular colors at all. The condition is commonly due to an abnormality in the color-sensing receptors within the eye.

In humans, there are 2 kinds of color blindness. These are red-green color blindness and blue-yellow color blindness. Which kind a person has depends on which color-sensing receptors are causing the problem. For instance, someone with red-green color blindness won’t be able to differentiate between those two colors.

When it comes to differentiating between colors, a dog’s normal vision resembles that of a person who has red-green color blindness. However, although this may be true, further degrees of color blindness have yet to become recorded in dogs.

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Which Colors Do Dogs See?

Dogs have 2 cones that help them detect blue and yellow. It means that they can see combinations of these colors. They can’t see red because they don’t have a red-sensing cone. 

Research has led us to reach the conclusion that dogs see the world through their own individual color spectrum. Blue and yellow are the dominant colors in dog color vision. Violet, blue, and blue-green will take on the appearance of varying shades of blue. Green and red are likely to look more like grays and browns to a dog.

Dogs can differentiate between shades of gray. Given that dogs are unable to recognize green, orange, and red, it probably makes no difference to a dog if you buy them a leash or a toy that is a funky purple color, for instance. 

Dogs make use of other types of cues instead of relying only on color. These include the smell, feel, brightness, or distance of a particular object. So, for example, a dog may not be able to tell a green traffic light from a red one. They’d rely more on the brightness of the light and where it has its position. 

Their reliance on other senses and the support they get from their owners may make it easier for domesticated dogs to cope with blindness.

Differences in the Ways Humans and Dogs See

As well as color perception, people and their canine pets have other differences in the way they see. In some ways, a dog’s vision is not as sharp as that of a human. 

Dogs tend to be more nearsighted when compared to people. If they stare at an object from the same distance, it may seem clear as day to us but indistinct and blurry to a dog. 

Although dogs use brightness to help distinguish objects, they are less sensitive to alterations in brightness. In short, dogs just don’t have the capability to perceive color in the same bright, vibrant tones that we have.

How a Dog’s Eyes Are Set

Canines do have some visual benefits that humans don’t have. For example, they have eyes set further to the sides of their heads. This gives them a wider range of peripheral vision when compared to people. The payback is less range of visual sensitivity meaning that dogs do not have the same depth perception that people have.

Dogs have pupils that dilate to their maximum limit. This lets them take in the most light as possible. They have reflective cells under their retinas too. These form the tapetum. It gives dogs that “shiny eye” look and enhances their ability to see in dim light.

Dogs also have more rod cells in the retina than we do. These rods have the responsibility for detecting motion and light, even small movements at long distances. So, compared to humans, dogs see better in dim light, for example in the early morning or evening, and can more accurately detect motion.

What Lies Behind How Dogs See?

Evolution and nature have adapted the visual tools a dog has. These have let them survive and continue to procreate in the wild. The ability to see well when there’s little light and the capacity to detect slight movements at great distances enhances a dog’s hunting skills. 

These adaptations to their visual senses also help dogs know when they are the prey and need to get away quickly from danger. Although we have allowed dogs to become domesticated, their instincts and visual abilities have, to an extent, remained the same for thousands of years.

Looking After Your Dog’s Eye

You should feed your dog a healthy diet rich with antioxidants. This is going to help support your dog’s eyesight and mitigate the risk of eye infections in dogs. You can blend up fruits and vegetables in this list into a purée to help with digestion:

  • Blueberries: for flavonoids, carotenoids, and phytonutrients
  • Carrots: for beta-carotene and vitamin A 
  • Kale: antioxidants 
  • Broccoli and sweet potatoes (cooked): for beta-carotene
  • Eggs: for cysteine and lutein
  • Salmon and sardines: for omega-3 fatty acids

Talk to a Vet Today

If you’ve been asking yourself, “Can dogs see color,” or have had questions about color blindness in dogs, it’s clear you have a keen interest in how your pet sees the world around them. 

Perhaps you now have concerns about your dog’s sight. If so, you should get in touch with a vet. They will be able to recommend a course of action, particularly for senior dogs. We have a team of expert vets ready to help. Book a timeslot today with one of the team today and get your dog’s sight issues sorted straight away.

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