Ever wonder how the world looks like through your beloved pet’s eyes? There are tons of myths floating around regarding dogs. People say that dogs age seven years for every human year. You may have heard before that dogs only see things in shades of gray.

Some even have that idea that they see everything in the exact same way that we do. Are they really color-blind, as many dog breeders would say? And while it is common knowledge that cats are the champs at night-time vision, dog lovers around the world could not help but wonder as well, Can dogs see in the dark?

How Do Dogs Actually See?

Can Dogs See In The Dark

First off, let’s talk about how dogs can see generally. Your dogs’ eyes are placed on opposite sides of the head, which means that they have a field vision of 250 degrees, slightly higher than the humans’ at 190 degrees. It means that dogs have 60 degrees more peripheral vision compared to humans.

However, it also means that his enhanced field of vision compromises the central or binocular vision, which cuts it into approximately half of that of humans. Binocular vision is the field of view where both eyes intersect or overlap, and it gives us what we call “depth perception”. Humans have about 120 degrees binocular overlap, while dogs have around 75 degrees. Since the wider distance reduces the field of view in which the eyes intersect, it also cuts down your dog’s binocular vision. Snub nosed dogs, like bulldogs and pugs, have an even smaller field of vision.

In addition, don’t be sad when your dog does not recognize you from far away. Visual acuity, or the clearness of vision which includes seeing the finest details, among dogs is around 20/75. If you have a perfect vision of 20/20, this means that what you can see clearly at 75 feet, your pup can only see at 20 feet. Labradors however, compared to other breeds, have better eyesight that is closer to 20/20 because they have been bred as retrievers and guide dogs for many generations.

If this is how a dog’s vision is like, can dogs see color?

What Colors Do Dogs See?

While it is a usual notion that dogs see the world in black, white, and several shades of gray, it is not true at all. They do, however, see colors differently. Dogs only have two types of color receptors (or cones), while humans have three.  Jay Neitz, a color vision scientist at the University of Washington and a researcher who has conducted numerous experiments on color perception in dogs, said that your pup’s eyes are similarly structured to those of color-blind people, who have red-green color deficiency.

In humans, color blindness (a term used to call a condition where there is decreased ability or an inability to perceive colors) happens mostly to men and rarely to women. It is commonly connected to the X chromosome, and since men only have one, they’ll be out of luck if it’s defective.

Dogs’ color vision is similar to that of a color-blind human in a way that only two color receptors are working. So, can dogs see colors? Yes, they can. Are dogs color blind? Not necessarily. So, what colors do dogs see, if they’re not really color blind? Their spectrum consists mostly of blue, yellow, and violets. Anything red, green, or orange appear somewhere on their blue or yellow range, and are not really that distinguishable. This may also be the main reason why agility obstacles are painted in blue and yellow.

In another research conducted by Dr. Gerald Jacobs, Professor of Psychology at the University of Santa Barbara, dogs were given three circles of varied colors and were taught to choose the one that looked “different”. The dogs couldn’t pick out the odd one out when they were presented with colors they supposedly couldn’t detect. However, when they were offered with colors that they can perceive, they were able to point out the “different” one. Through this test, the researchers were able to conclude which colors dogs have trouble detecting, and which ones they can see with no problem. This also cemented the idea that dogs see in dichromatic vision, same as color-blind humans.

Try throwing a red ball onto a green field and see if your pup fetches it. He most likely will, but this will be because of his motion-detection ability and not because of the screaming red color which, to your pup, will appear yellow on yellow. In addition, dogs may also sometimes use other indications to determine “red” from “green”.

“A lot of the time there are good cues to help them figure it out; for example, red objects tend to be darker than green objects,” Neitz said in his study. “So, if it’s a dark apple, a red-green color-blind person would know that it’s probably a red one, and if it’s a lighter apple, it may be a Granny Smith.”

Can Dogs See In The Dark?

According to Paul Miller, a clinical professor of comparative ophthalmology at University of Winconsin-Madison, dogs see a lot better than we do at night.

He said, “Dogs have evolved to see well in both bright and dim light, whereas humans do best in bright light. No one is quite sure how much better a dog sees in dim light, but I would suspect that dogs are not quite as good as cats,” which are, of course, known as the reigning titleholders of night vision. He also adds that dogs “can probably see in light five times dimmer than a human can see in.” Miller also pointed out that dogs have many adaptations for low-light vision.

The secret to good night vision among dogs lies in their ability to make use of whatever light is available to them, regardless of the amount of that light. This is due to the rods in your dog’s retina. They have more rods compared to cones, which enables them to see better in the dark.

Furthermore, dogs also have tapetum lucidum. They act like a mirror, reflecting back light to give the retina a second chance to register any light that enters the eye. This tapetum lucidum is the same one that freaks you out at night, causing you to jump back a few steps by giving your pet’s eyes a bright, eerie glow.

However, it is also important to note that although dogs see pretty well in places with low light, their vision is not that much better for no-light conditions. Therefore, don’t expect Buddy to navigate fairly through a pitch-dark space that they’re not accustomed to. More often than not, they would also be walking into walls or bumping into corners, much like you will. Unless you are practicing Feng Shui or have a knack of rearranging things and furniture just because, your dog can run through your home in the dead of night because of familiarity, not because of their ability to clearly see in the dark.

With that answer fairly established now, should you leave your dogs in the dark (literally, not figuratively)?

This may be a “depends on your dog” kind of answer, but there’s more to it, actually. Does your dog “feel” okay being left in the dark? Does he or she feel safe? There are many ways to find out. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Your dog is abnormally and visually upset when you come home from work (which may be past 7 or 8PM)
  • You found them hiding (under the table, inside your closet, etc)
  • Claw marks, like they were scratching at the door to get out

You may also ask your neighbors if your dog barked a lot while you were away. This could just be separation anxiety for your furry housemate, but you never know. If you’re not sure, you can buy a darkness-sensing nightlight to keep their unease (and your guilt) at bay.

Pets Seeing Ultra-Violet Light

Another reason why your dog has a leg up in seeing things that you can’t?

No, they don’t have a sixth sense, which makes you think they look “spooked” all the time. A study conducted last 2015 shows that aside from bats, reindeer, and certain moles, your house pets can see or perceive ultraviolet light. This could also explain the bizarre behavior among animals.

“Nobody ever thought these animals could see in ultraviolet, but in fact, they do,” said Ron Douglas, a biologist at City University London and leader of the study, in England. As to why they have it, scientists are not really sure.

The human eye blocks out ultraviolet light, but for animals that have UV-transparent lenses, the light reaches the retina, which in turn, converts them into nerve signals that travel up to the brain. This is the point where the visual system perceives them.

To discover which animals possess this ability to see UV light, the researchers got hold of eyes from a wide variety of mammals – which include hedgehogs, monkeys, red pandas, and everything in between – who died or were killed. These animals came from zoos, science labs, vets, and slaughter houses. The researchers then measured how much light got through each animal’s eye to the retina.

Results show that many of the animals, dogs and cats included, have lenses that let some UV light through, signifying that these animals may be able to see in the ultraviolet. Other animals include ferrets, okapis (relatives of giraffes that reside in the African rainforest), hedgehogs, and more.

This also begs the question, “What good does seeing UV light serve?”

Dr. Douglas said, “The question is only being asked because humans can’t see it.” He also adds that nobody ever asks why humans see other colors. Still, seeing UV light does have its purpose. For bees and other insects, they use their UV vision to see colors and patterns. For rodents, they use to follow trails of urine.

“There are many examples of things that reflect UV, which UV sensitive animals could see that humans can’t. Examples are patterns on flowers that indicate where nectar is, urine trails that lead to prey, and reindeer could see polar bears as snow reflects UV, but white fur does not,” said Dr. Douglas.

For your pets, though, it’s still unclear why they have it.

Several man-made chemicals are added to paper, cosmetics, shampoo, etc., to make them appear brighter. These optical brighteners absorb light in the UV spectrum, making them even more appealing to your house pets. In addition, your dog may probably see a white-furred animal like a bunny hopping through a blizzard, while all you see is a white fuzz.

The next time you think your dog is seeing something that you can’t, you’re probably right, but just not about the “kinds of things” they see.

How To Take Care Of Your Dog’s Eyes?

While dogs aren’t that dependent on their eyes as we are (they have a keen sense of smell and their hearing is already extra sharp), their vision still plays a big part in their day-to-day activities. As a responsible dog parent, there are a few ways to make sure your pup’s eyes are in tip-top shape, and to catch conditions before they turn serious.

  • Look into their eyes – Not necessarily in the “I’m in love with you” kind of way, but do check for discharges, crusts, and tearing. Make sure there’s white around their eyeballs too. If you are seeing out-of-the ordinary changes, like cloudiness, a visible third eyelid, unequal pupil sizes, or a change in the eye color, those are signs that you and Buddy need to see your vet ASAP.
  • Close the windows while going out for a ride– You and your pretty pet may get several “Oohs!” and “Aahs!” from onlookers, and your dog may even seem to enjoy sticking out their head, but the wind and debris can cause serious eye problems.
  • Clean them out – Keep her peepers free from gunk and dirt by using a damp cotton ball, careful not to scratch the cornea. You can also use dog eye wash if you see redness during dry winters.
  • Trim the bangs – By clipping them with round-edged scissors, you can avoid their hair from scratching and poking your dog’s eyes.

Hope you have got the answer to the question — Can Dogs See in the Dark through this article. For feedback, please drop it in the comments section.

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