Are Dogs Color Blind?

Christina Fernandez, DVM, DACVECC
Written by:
Published: July 30, 2020
Updated: October 21, 2022
Vet Reviewed by Jennifer Coates, DVM

Have you ever wondered what the world looks like through your dog’s eyes, or thought about whether dogs can see all colors of the rainbow? Have you ever pondered the question, “Are dogs color blind?” You are not alone.

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

Dog Color Blindness: Fact or Fiction?

First, you’ll need to understand how the eye works. 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 to differentiate color.

People have three types of cones, while dogs have two. This means that people 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.”

What Is Color Blindness?

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.

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

So What’s the Truth About Dog Color Blindness?

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

How do we know this?

Some types of 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.

Which Colors Can Dogs See?

Dogs and humans see and experience color differently. Being dichromatic means that a dog’s perception of color will be limited when compared to humans.

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.

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.

 

Chart of Colors dogs can see

Examples: 

Dog visionexample dog vision

Images created using the Dog VISION Image Processing Tool 

References:

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.170869


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