Dog vision has evolved out of biological needs.

Dog Vision: Can Dogs See Colour? We Answer


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Dog vision is a topic that at once begs the question ‘can dogs see colour’? It’s a perplexing one, because although our dog’s right here, he or she can’t let the cat out of the bag. So, to speak.

And despite that wagging tail and the high-tech world around us, a dog translator device has yet to be designed. Happily, in the meantime, biology is bridging the information divide and helping us understand how dogs see.

And because we’re just as excited about knowing everything dog, here’s the inside story….

Can dogs see colour?

Yes! For decades, researchers believed, incorrectly, that dogs saw the world in several (not 50) shades of grey. This theory was widely published and made its way into many a dinner conversation.

So, at some point, you’ll probably still encounter someone who tells you Rover can’t see colour. (You should probably bookmark this article for that occasion so you can share it then and there!)

What is true, however, is that Rover can’t see colour like a human. And if you think about it, that makes lots of sense. Here’s why…

Dog vision and food

If you go back far enough, a dog’s family tree leads you to an ancient species of wolf. Wolves of course hunt at night and are nocturnal. Humans on the other hand would have hunted in the day, which is why we don’t have such great night vision.

Also, we peeps are designed to eat lots of fruit and veg (Pop-eye was telling the truth). Whereas wolves have more protein heavy dietary requirements, similar to modern dogs. However, you might be interested to know that dogs have a more evolved capacity for starch than wolves.

Can you see where this is going…? Fruits are colourful, while prey, especially at night, will look brownish greyish. This is precisely why humans and other apes see a broad spectrum of colour well, so we can find all those perfectly ripe fruits.

Whereas our canine counterparts would be thinking “bananas and mangoes? Gross… hand me a steak, will you”. This is why our pups simply don’t need as keen a sense of colour. Try out this neat dog vision image tool to see how a dog sees.

The result? Dogs see a narrower and more muted version of the colour spectrum, but they do still see it.

Dog vision is similar to human red-green colourblindness.

How do dogs see?

Vision in humans and dogs starts the same way (cameras similarly too). Light first enters the pupil and travels through the cornea and lens, which both focus the light on the retina.

The retina is a neat piece of biological equipment that has cells called rods and cones. Cones are the eye’s tool for converting light to colour and rods process movement and brightness.

A key difference between humans and our canine buds is the number of cones each has. While humans have three cones, our pups only have two. And as you can imagine, 33.3% less ability to convert light to colour is a significant amount.

On the other hand, dogs have more rods to see motion better and to see well in low light. In other words, to be able to hunt. Luckily, our modern day pup’s prey is usually a stick or a ball. Speaking of which – most of us have bought the wrong dog ball.

Read this next bit to see why.

Are dogs colourblind?

Dog vision, directly linked to a dog’s evolutionary and biological needs, is similar to human red-green colourblindness. It’s thought they see yellows, blues, and greys but not reds.

This is ironic when you realise how many dog balls and toys are made in shades of red. You might find pooch occasionally runs past a red ball, then sniffs around and circles back to find it.

Although your pup may not see the ball, they’re relying on a well-developed sense of smell to find it. So, while red dog toys appeal more to a human’s sense of colour, a good colour for your dog would be a blue toy.

Watch this video to see your dog’s vision in action:

Dog insurance

Although dogs see motion much better than we do, the world around them is still evolving faster than biology. Dog vision developed before cars, motorbikes, and other modern dangers, and it hasn’t really changed.

Therefore, it’s always good to have affordable online dog insurance. Whether it’s non-routine vet visits for health checks, or emergency hospitalisation for an accident, pet insurance helps you pay the bills.

Dog vision – over to you

Have you noticed if your dog has a favourite toy? Tell us what colour and type it is in the comments.

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