What Colors Can Dogs See?

Christina Fernandez, DVM, DACVECC
By Christina Fernandez, DVM, DACVECC. Reviewed by Barri J. Morrison, DVM on Mar. 14, 2024
border-collie-tugging-on-toy-rope

iStock/Iuliia Zavalishina

Have you ever wondered what the world looks like through your dog’s eyes, or thought,
“what colors can dogs see?” You’re not alone.

Dog color blindness and dog color vision have been extensively researched. And while we don’t know everything, we can give you some answers to these questions.

Key Takeaways

  • There is some research around dog color blindness, but we still have more questions than answers.
  • Dog color vision is described as dichromatic, or “two-colored.”
  • Dogs are good at distinguishing between variations of blues and yellows, but they can’t see red and green well.
  • Dogs see the world similarly to humans with red-green color blindness.

What Is Color Blindness?

Color blindness in dogs and humans doesn’t mean that you see in black and white. Color blindness describes an inability to differentiate between colors or to see certain colors at all. This condition stems from an abnormality in the color-sensing receptors in the eye.

The eye is made up of specialized cells and receptors called rods and cones. Rods are responsible for detecting motion and aiding vision in varying shades of light, while cones help differentiate color.

Humans have three types of cones, while dogs have two. This means that humans can normally identify three color combinations (red, blue, and green), while dogs are limited to two (yellow and blue). Dog color vision is therefore described as dichromatic, or “two-colored.”

In humans, there are two types of color blindness: red-green color blindness and blue-yellow color blindness. The type of color blindness a person has depends on which color-sensing receptors are affected. For example, a person with red-green color blindness cannot differentiate between red and green.

Can Dogs See Color or Are Dogs Color Blind?

Having yellow-blue dichromatic vision means that dogs are most similar to a red-green color-blind person. Dogs are very good at distinguishing between variations of blues and yellows (and whites and grays), but dogs can’t see red and green all that well.

color-comparison-chart-between-humans-and-dogs

We know dogs are similar to red-green color-blind people because of various studies. Some studies have investigated the structure and function of dog eyes to identify the types of cones that are present and observe how they react to different wavelengths of light.

Scientists have also used behavioral studies to test color vision in dogs. Some involve training dogs to respond to color cues for food rewards while others monitor how a dog’s eyes, head, and body orient to movements of colored objects.

What Colors Can Dogs See?

how-dogs-see-what-dogs-see

Research leads us to believe that dogs see the world through a unique color spectrum. Yellow and blue are dominant colors in dog color vision. Blue, blue-green, and violet look like varying shades of blue. Shades of red and green probably look more like browns and grayscale to a dog.

Dog Vision vs. Human Vision

In comparison to people, dogs also don’t see quite as clearly and can’t differentiate as well between differences in brightness, which probably makes the world appear a bit muted and fuzzy to them.

But canine vision is superior to ours in other ways. They are much better at detecting motion and can also see more clearly in dim light—when shades of gray predominate and having good color vision doesn’t offer much of a benefit.

Dogs also have an exceptional sense of smell when compared to humans—studies indicate that a dog’s sense of smell is 1,000 to 10,000 times better than ours. This keen sense of smell helps them navigate the world. Because a dog’s nose is so powerful, it’s thought to be their most dominant sense and makes up for the fact their other senses (like sight) might not be as stellar.

References

Neitz J, Geist T, Jacobs GH. Color vision in the dog. Visual Neuroscience. 1989;3(2):119-125. doi:https://doi.org/10.1017/s0952523800004430

Siniscalchi M, d’Ingeo S, Fornelli S, Quaranta A. Are dogs red–green colour blind? Royal Society Open Science. 2017;4(11):170869. doi:https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.170869

References


Christina Fernandez, DVM, DACVECC

WRITTEN BY

Christina Fernandez, DVM, DACVECC


Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?


Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health