Are dogs color-blind?

March 21, 2024 - 3 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Fawn coloured Chihuahua in the grass

Have you ever wondered how your dog sees you?

No, we don’t mean what they think of you; we’re literally talking about how they see you. With their eyes.

Can they see in color? Is there anything in the myth that dogs don't see the same shades and hues as us? Well, it's not all black and white. 

Here, we share the science of what dog color blindness is, what colors they can see, how their vision differs from humans, and if all dogs are color blind.

Interestingly enough, dogs can see color, but not in the same way as us.

Read on to find out more. 

What’s dog color blindness?

Color blindness doesn't mean the dogs physically can't see something in that color; it just means they appear slightly differently to them than they do to typical humans.

This is mainly due to the structure of their eyes, which we'll discuss below.

Are all dogs color-blind?

Dogs have dichromatic vision, similar to humans with red-green color blindness. 

This changes how dogs see color. For example, reds look like brown, purple looks like blue and orange and green blur into one. They can differentiate between blues and yellows but struggle with greens and reds (and anything close to those two colors). 

How do we know this?

Scientists have studied how a dog’s eye cones react to different light wavelengths, proving that they respond to specific colors more. Simple behavioural tests involving colors and positive reinforcement have also proven a bias for certain colors.

So, our furry friends can see color, just not in the same depth as us. To understand why, we need to know how vision works.

How does dog vision work?

We don’t need to be optometrists; we just need to know the difference between: 

  • Cones: these work to perceive colors and kick in during bright light conditions

  • Rods: these track movement and kick in during low-light conditions

Compared to humans, dogs have more rod cells than cones. Dogs only have two cone types, while humans have three. This extra cone allows most of us to see red and green, the colors that dogs can't. 

This means dogs see less color, not that they don't see color. They see in a smaller light spectrum, but they aren’t wholly colorblind. 

But why?

It’s for adaptation reasons. Dogs came from wolves, and as a wild predator, they needed to see fast-moving prey quickly, hence the increased level of rods. 

Rods also work better in low-light conditions, which is essential for wolves to survive in the wild. 

How else are dog eyes different from human eyes?

As mentioned, dog eyes have more rods than cones compared to humans. But the differences don’t stop there. 

The lens, which helps the eye focus on light, is big in dogs, which, combined with their thick membrane known as a tapetum, allows them to see in the dark. 

We humans don’t have this, which is why if you’re ever walking your dog at night, you’ll notice how much more adept they are at finding their way. 

It’s also why a dog's eyes brighten up when a light hits them.

So, which colors can dogs see?

Colours they can see Colours they can't see
Blue Green
Grey Orange
Yellow Purple

What colors are best for dog toys?

So, how can a dog tell the difference between their favourite red toy and the green one they don’t like as much? 

The answer is scent. Dogs use this in combination with their eyesight, meaning they don’t need to rely on it as much as humans. 

Your dog will be able to have fun with whatever color toy you give them, but for the best results, we’d recommend blue or yellow toys; as mentioned, these are the brightest colors in a dog’s world. 

Read our article on the best toys for puppies and dogs.

Do I need to worry about it?

No, not really. Knowing that your dog has a different vision from yours is interesting, but ultimately, it won’t change things too much. 

However, if you think your dog has eye or vision problems, like cataracts or ulcers, see a vet immediately. 

Vision issues can indicate a serious health problem, but staying proactive can help your four-legged friend stay happy and healthy throughout their life. 

As long as you took out dog insurance before they developed the condition, it may be able to help with the cost.