What Colors Can Dogs See?

golden retriever sitting in the grass

Many things go into vision, such as color, light, depth, and more. Color plays a big part in how we and other animals live. It allows us to see various objects, identify traits of humans and animals, and easily navigate our world. Living in a black and white world would be much more difficult than living in one of color.

Humans live in a trichromatic world. This means that we can see three primary colors and a total of seven colors in varying shades. Many know that humans can see the primary colors of blue, red, and yellow. These colors mix to create the beautiful and colorful world that we live in.

But what if our eyes were able to pick up on more primary colors? What about if they could only see one or two primary colors? This would make our world look very different, one that dogs are more familiar with than most humans are.

Dog vision is much different from human vision. While humans are trichromatic, dogs have dichromatic vision. Dogs only have two primary colors: blue and yellow. This makes their color perception very different than ours is. So, how do dogs see the world around them? Is it black and white? Blurry? We’ll go over all dog vision basics, including what colors dogs can see.

The Science of Dog Vision

Vision is a very fascinating, complex sense that varies from animal to animal. There are many differences between canine vision and human vision, and these are caused by differing eye structures. Evolution and survival are the driving causes behind these eye design differences. Dogs have acted as nocturnal hunters who track and catch their food in the darkness of night. Because of this, their eyes have evolved to become excellent at seeing in the dark and tracking movement. Humans have not lived in the wild for many centuries, so our vision has adapted away from these traits that are used for hunting.

One major part of vision is the ability to see different colors. Color is recognized by nerve cells within the eye. Part of the eye known as the retina has two types of cells: cones, and rods. Rods detect light levels and motion, while cones differentiate colors from one another. Cones detect different light wavelengths, which allow them to see various colors. This is what enables both you and your pup to recognize objects that are blue, yellow, and green.

There are three types of cones in the human eye, which gives us three primary colors that we can see: red, blue, and yellow. Dogs only have two cones, which is why their primary colors are limited to two: blue and yellow. Only having two primary colors greatly affects vision in comparison to having three or more. When you see a red sign, this sign likely appears brown to your beloved pup. This can make the world look pretty different to your dog compared to what you see!

While humans have more cones and see more color than dogs, as well as seeing things brighter, dogs have more rods in their eyes. These rods allow them to see better at night or low light and to catch moving objects. Ever wonder why your dog seems to notice things in the dim light that you don’t? Or how they turn their head to movements as simple as a leaf blowing by? This ability to see differently than us is all thanks to their increased number of rods.

dog laying on a grey couch

What Is Color Blindness?

There are typical ways that both humans and dogs can see light and color. When human vision is altered regarding color, this is called color blindness. In humans, there are two types of color blindness: red-green color blindness and blue-yellow color blindness.

Someone who has red-green color blindness cannot tell the difference between something green and something red. A person who has blue-yellow color blindness cannot tell the difference between something blue and something yellow. Essentially, these colors appear the same, like a grey or brown color. While all other colors may seem the same, certain shades and objects look different to someone who is color blind compared to someone who is not.

People who are color blind experience this condition because of abnormalities in the color detecting molecules, known as cones, within their retinas. When these color-detecting molecules, known as photoreceptors, are missing, they cannot pick up certain light wavelengths. This leads to an inability to see various colors.

There have been no recorded cases of color blindness in dogs, but their vision appears how a red-green color blind person would see the world. You don’t have to worry about your dog being color blind, but it’s a good idea to take into account the colors that they naturally cannot see. How different the world must look for our canine friends.

Are Dogs Color Blind?

While dogs can’t see color in the same way that we do, they are not completely blind to seeing any colors at all. So, what colors can dogs see? Dogs can see shades of black, white, green, yellow, and blue. The only colors that we can see and dogs can’t are red, orange, pink, indigo, and violet.

This is part of the reason that dogs prefer blue and yellow toys over other color toys. Have you ever noticed your dog favoring a green tennis ball over a pink or orange one? Dogs can distinguish yellow and blue from green, but other colors may look brown to them. This makes playing with these colored toys much easier and more engaging.

It turns out that color blind people and regular seeing dogs may see the world in the same way. Many scientists believe that a dog’s vision is similar to that of someone who has red-green color blindness. Studies have shown that dogs can make out yellow and blue, and combinations of these colors. This makes trees filled with green leaves likely look dull. A bright red ball may look like it is brown to your dog. If you are curious about what your dog sees, many apps can help simulate dog vision for you to experience. It’s quite surprising to see how a dog’s world differs from ours based on their vision.

dog sitting in the grass on a leash

Other Visual Differences Between Dogs and Humans

Humans and dogs see things differently in a variety of ways beyond just color. Dogs’ eyes are set farther on the sides of their heads, meaning they have a wider range of peripheral vision than humans have. In trade for this, dogs have a smaller range of visual acuity, so they have much less depth perception than humans do. In addition, dogs are very nearsighted. They may have a hard time identifying objects and people that are far away. This is why they rely so heavily on sounds and smells to navigate their world.

When it comes to vision and eye structure, even pupils differ between dogs and humans. Dog pupils dilate maximally, which allows them to capture as much light as possible. Beneath the retina, dogs have reflective cells that form the tapetum. The tapetum is what causes your dog’s eyes to look shiny and allows them to see well in dim light.

As stated earlier, dog eyes have more rods than human eyes, allowing them to better detect motion and light. Dogs can easily pick up on any motion in the area that humans may typically miss. This is especially helpful for them when hunting or watching out for potential predators. When a small animal runs by that you don’t notice, a dog will easily pick up on this motion, which is why they may chase a squirrel while on a walk that you never even saw!

Why Is Dog Vision Different Than Human Vision?

All animals have different adaptations that have improved their lives and abilities in various ways. Humans and dogs have evolved in many different ways. This is why we walk on two legs and dogs walk on four, we use language differently from dogs, and why our vision differs from one another. Dogs have descended from wild animals that had to fend for themselves before domestication. This need to survive and the hunt had a great impact on the development of their vision.

Seeing well in dim light and identifying small movements even at great distances have allowed dogs to hunt. Catching prey would have been a much more difficult task without these abilities. In addition, these vision abilities allow dogs to watch out for potential predators in the wild. Both of these skills are essential for surviving as a species, which makes sense why dog vision has evolved in these ways.

puppy sitting in front of purple background

How to Handle Dog Vision as a Dog Owner

All dog owners want to give their dogs the best lives that they can. When taking vision into account for this, try to choose products that your dog can easily see. Remembering what colors dogs can see is the key to adjusting their life based on vision. Many dogs naturally prefer yellow tennis balls over pink ones, and the color is the simple reason why. Thankfully, toys are abundant on the market that are made in colors that dogs can easily see.

If you are throwing a ball far into a field for your dog to chase after, try to avoid using one that is red, orange, or purple. This may cause the ball to blend in with the grass and become hard for him to find. If you are teaching him to identify one toy from another, try to use ones that are made in colors that your dog can easily see.

Dogs do better in agility courses that use certain colors. Weaves poles, tunnels, jumps, and boards that are painted in colors that dogs can see make these courses easier to complete. If you are practicing agility with your dog, try to use equipment that is painted blue, green, or yellow. You will be impressed at how well your dog responds to these colors when practicing agility.

Common Dog Vision Health Issues

While dogs can’t be color blind, they can experience other vision problems. Aside from buying your dog color-friendly toys, it’s a good idea to know these common vision health issues and what they look like. If one arises in your dog, you will be able to get them the medical care that they might need promptly.

Cherry Eye

Cherry eye is a very common eye health issue for dogs to face. This condition occurs when there is a displacement of the tear gland on the third eyelid. Cherry eye most commonly affects flat-faced dogs, such as Pugs, and large breeds with droopy eyelids, such as Newfoundlands, though this condition can affect any breed.

Cherry eye causes the tear gland to move from behind the third eyelid, becoming swollen and irritated. If you notice the inner corner of your dog’s eye becoming swollen, be sure to take them to the vet for a possible case of cherry eye.

dog standing behind large log

Glaucoma

In healthy dog eyes, fluid flows in and out to maintain pressure. When there is too much fluid going in or an issue with drainage causing too much pressure, this is called glaucoma.

Early symptoms of glaucoma include eye pain, redness, and visible blood vessels in the whites of the eyes. As glaucoma worsens, a dog’s eye may become larger and more painful, and the cornea may become clouded.

Glaucoma must be treated by a vet. If you notice any signs or symptoms of glaucoma in your dog, be sure to get them checked by a medical professional.

Pink Eye

Pink eye is a bacterial infection of the eye that can affect both humans and dogs. Conjunctiva, the moist mucosal tissue around the eye and under the eyelid is the part of the eye that becomes infected with pink eye.

Pink eye is very commonly triggered by an allergy, though sometimes it may be triggered by a virus. Pink eye can cause discharge from the eye, squinting, rubbing the eye to alleviate pain or itchiness, and whites of the eyes can become red.

Pink eye can easily be treated by your vet. If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, be sure to get them to the vet.

Cataracts

Cataracts are an eye condition that can affect one or both eyes. With cataracts, the central part of the eye appears to be cloudy due to the lens losing transparency. Depending on the size and severity of cataracts, they may cause a significant loss of vision and even lead to blindness.

Cataracts can be an inherited condition, though they can also be caused by other diseases. One common cause of cataracts is diabetes. The excess glucose that diabetes causes can lead to lens swelling. The lens will eventually rupture and cause severe inflammation within the eye, known as uveitis. If you notice any signs of cataracts within your dog, be sure to get them to a vet. Your vet will be able to determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan for your pup.

two puppies standing in the grass

Allergies

Just like humans, dogs can be prone to allergies. While allergies make humans sneeze, cough, and possibly get hives, dogs experience different allergy symptoms. Dog allergies typically cause itchy and irritated skin, ear infections, and possible eye irritation.

Dogs can experience three different types of allergies: skin allergies, food allergies, and flea allergies. A dog who is experiencing allergies may have red, itchy eyes. These allergies can lead to bacterial infections of the eye and may cause discharge from the eyes. If you notice any eye irritation, be sure to discuss this with your vet. They will be able to determine if it is being caused by allergies and what to do going forward to treat them.

Wrapping Up

Dogs rely on vision as much as humans do. They use vision to navigate the world, hunt when in the wild, survive on their own, and identify those that they are with. While vision is a big part of their world, their vision looks much different than ours.

Dogs have dichromatic vision, meaning that they can only see green, blue, yellow, white, and black. Because of this, they see colors such as red, orange, and purple as more of a brown color. As an owner, it’s a good idea to keep this in mind when you are buying items such as dog toys. Dogs prefer toys in blue and green that are easier for them to see.

Dogs can’t be color blind, though their vision is close to how someone with red-green color blindness sees. While dogs can’t be color blind, they can have other vision issues. Knowing these common vision issues and their symptoms can help you get your dog the treatment that they need if any vision problems develop. With your help, your dog can live a healthy, happy life surrounded by dogs toy that are in colors that they enjoy.

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