It’s been a long-standing theory that dogs have terrible vision, especially when it comes to colors. But that is not necessarily true. Research has also shown that canine eyesight is not as bad as originally thought. So, what’s the verdict when it comes to dogs’ sight?
Dogs do have difficulty seeing some colors. They are also nearsighted and lack depth perception. They do, however, have incredible peripheral vision and can see in the dark. Dogs can have issues with their eyes that require medical treatment, especially in their old age.
Plenty of people are curious about their pup’s eyes, and there are many fascinating facts about a canine sight to learn. This article will dig deep into the world of doggy eyesight, so you can have a better understanding of what’s going on behind those “puppy dog eyes.”
Understanding a Dog’s Eyes
It is no secret that dogs have different sight than humans do, but many people do not know why. To better understand why a dog sees the world differently, you must look into the make-up of the eye itself.
The Structure of a Dog’s Eye is Not the Same
Most people know an eye’s basic features, with the pupil and the lens visible to the naked eye. But one part that is not so clear is the retina, which sits deeper within the eye. This is the light-sensitive portion that contains rods and cones – two light-sensitive cells that work together.
Here’s how they work:
- The cones provide color and detail.
- The rods provide motion and the ability to see in fainter lights.
Compared to a human, a dog has far more rods than they do cones. This is why they can see so well in the dark while also having better sight for motion. However, the lack of cones in the retina means that they have a far more difficult time seeing color. (Source: Pets Doc)
Dogs Have a Third Eyelid
Dogs have a third eyelid, known as the nictitating membrane. This extra eyelid doesn’t have much to do with the actual vision abilities of your dog, though. The primary function of this extra eyelid is to protect the eyes. (Source: PetMD)
Dogs Are Nearsighted
Dogs are known to be nearsighted with 20/75 vision. This means that things are far blurrier from a distance. Something someone could see from 75 feet away would be nearly impossible for the canine to see.
This is not the case for all dog breeds, though. Retrievers and Spaniels, for example, are prone to farsightedness. If playtime is exceptionally challenging for your pooch, they may be suffering from farsightedness. A veterinarian will be able to diagnose this vision issue.
Dogs Have Advanced Peripheral Vision
While a dog might be nearsighted, it doesn’t mean that it is all bad news for them. Dogs’ eyes are located on the sides of their head. With this type of structuring, dogs have an advanced peripheral vision.
While a human only has a field of vision between 180 and 190 degrees, a dog’s is 250 to 270.
Unfortunately, though, this means that their depth perception is compromised. This is because eyes must work together for depth perception to be utilized. It is far more challenging for a dog to see what is right in front of him due to his eyes being spaced so far apart.
This would explain why dogs have a hard time catching things that are thrown directly towards them. They are simply unable to distinguish where it is. Dogs are far more impressive with their catching abilities when treats and toys are thrown toward either side of the face.
Range of Vision is Different by Breed
Keep in mind that the range of vision differs between dogs.
A dog with a narrow facial structure with eyes closer together, such as a Labrador Retriever, won’t have as much range as the wide-set eyed Pug. While the difference is not incredible, it does contrast.
Dogs Can See In the Dark
One of the most impressive things about a canine’s eyesight is their ability to see in the dark. Studies have shown that dogs can see in light five times dimmer than what a human can see. However, this type of night vision is only applied to a low light situation. Dogs cannot see when it is entirely pitch black.
A dog can see things that humans cannot see when it is dark outside. This is because, historically, dogs did most of their hunting during sunrise and sunset. They needed superior eyesight to catch prey when the sunlight was scarce.
How a dog can see so well at night reverts back to the structure of their eye:
- A dog’s pupil is much larger than humans’. With a larger pupil, more light can enter the eye. This allows them to see in the dark whether they are indoors or outdoors.
- Dogs have more light-sensitive cells. A larger amount of light-sensitive cells means that there is extra bandwidth for absorbing light.
- Lastly, a dog’s eye is designed with a tapetum lucidum. A tapetum lucidum is essentially a mirror that is located behind a dog’s eye. It can reflect light for powerful night vision. However, it also produces excessive light during the daytime, which can be confusing for canines.
Are Dogs Color Blind?
Contrary to popular belief, a dog’s life isn’t completely black and white. They just don’t see colors the same way that humans do. This all resorts back to the eye structure.
Dogs see colors somewhat similarly to a human who has red-green colorblindness. This means that they have difficulty seeing red and green. Instead of seeing the typical reds and greens that a human sees, the dog will see this:
- Red colors appear as dark brown.
- Green objects appear gray.
A dog’s sight goes a bit further than typical red-green colorblindness, though. They also have a few more struggles with other colors:
- Yellows and oranges appear more yellowish.
- Purple objects appear to be blue.
(Source: Live Science)
Here is a fun video that shows the difference between what a human sees and what a canine sees.
What Does This Mean For You and Your Dog?
Just because your dog can’t see colors the same way you do, doesn’t mean you have to worry about them. A dog’s eyesight was designed in a specific way. They know how to handle the world around them, and being spectrum-challenged won’t pose any specific risks to his health or well-being.
As the owner, you can help your pup by buying toys and training equipment that feature colors your dog can see perfectly. This means ditching the popular red or orange balls and replacing them with a bright yellow ball instead.
Owners should be more choosy with their colors when it comes to toys and items used for obedience training. Training items should be in dog-friendly colors, including blue and yellow.
Where Did the Black and White Theory Start?
Most people are aware of the theory that dogs only see in black and white. However, most do not know where the theory originated.
Here is a basic breakdown of how it all started and how the original theory has changed today:
- It all started when the founder of National Dog Week, Will Judy, wrote a training manual in 1937. This manual claimed that a dog could only see in a variety of black and gray hues.
- In the 1960s, a group of researchers incorrectly stated that the only animals that could see colors were primates. This automatically dismissed canine.
- This theory was recognized and believed to be true until the year 2013.
- In 2013, a group of Russian researchers questioned the hypothesis that dogs could only see in black and white. They began conducting experiments to see whether or not dogs could see and distinguish between two colors. They did so by placing colored papers on the ground, holding a treat.
- The study began by showing the dogs the treat on a dark yellow paper. They continued until the dogs were accustomed to seeing the treat on the dark yellow paper, and they would automatically go to this specific paper for a treat.
- Eventually, the researchers swapped out the dark yellow paper. They placed the treat on a dark blue paper and placed the treatless bright yellow paper nearby. Their theory was that if the dog went for the dark blue paper, they could not distinguish colors.
- The dogs went to the bright yellow paper for their treat.
- This proved that dogs were able to see colors. However, it was also clear that dogs were unable to see impeccably well.
From this point on, the theory changed. It is now understood that dogs can see colors. However, not all colors are visible to the canine. Their vision is also not as clear as humans’, especially when it comes to colors.
(Source: Hills Pet)
Dogs Use Their Nose Over Their Vision
Knowing that a dog has difficulty seeing colors and things directly in front of them might leave an owner feeling concerned. They don’t have the best vision, especially compared to a human. They can’t see colors the ‘typical’ way humans do, and they are heavily nearsighted. Their depth perception is also compromised.
So how do dogs get away with not having a top-notch vision? The answer is simple — dogs ‘see’ with their nose.
A dog can typically smell objects or people as far as 12 miles away. Certain things can impact their scent, though. The wind plays a major role in diminishing the dog’s ability to smell something that far away. The type of smell is also an impact.
Overall, though, their incredible long-distance smell ensures they can hunt – whether it’s for food or playtime.
A Dog’s Brain is Built for Smell, Not Sight
The part of the brain that controls smell is 40 times larger in a canine than a person. This is why a dog’s scent sensitivity is anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000,000 times more sensitive than the average human.
Their noses also comprise 125 to 300 million scent glands, while a human only has 5 million. That is quite a differentiation.
A dog relies on its nose. That is because their nose tells the story before their eyes do. Their nose can register an abundance of smells from urine to stool, skin to hair.
This powerful ability to smell also gives them the ability to hunt for prey without needing their eyes. Certainly, their eyes play a role, but the dog can function almost entirely without sight. That is why deaf and blind dogs can live a perfectly normal life — they simply rely on their nose to get through days.
(Source: Falcon Bridge Animal)
Do Dogs Lose Their Vision?
Just like humans, dogs can lose their vision as they age. The common age for a dog to start experiencing vision loss is around 6 to 8, which is when most dogs enter their senior years. For smaller dogs, this number might be a little bit older as they tend to live a few more years compared to large-sized dogs.
What Causes Vision Loss in Older Dogs?
There are a variety of things that can cause vision loss in older dogs. Pet owners need to know the main causes of vision loss so that they can be better prepared. Senior dogs are more prone to certain illnesses than younger pooches.
Some of these conditions include:
- Glaucoma can occur in older canines. It occurs when there is any type of trauma to the eye, whether it’s from an injury or infection that has not received proper care. That is why your dog needs to see a veterinarian whenever there is damage or infection to the eye.
- Macular degeneration. This is a type of acquired PRA (progressive retinal atrophy). It is also referred to as sudden acquired retinal degeneration. There is nothing specific that causes this disease, but it most commonly occurs in older dogs. The disease causes blindness that can come on rapidly or over time.
- Cataracts. Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in geriatric canines. Cataracts put cloudiness over the eye that can be visibly seen by the owner. Cataracts typically occur in conjunction with canine diabetes.
- Hypertension. Another major cause of vision loss in seniors is hypertension. When a dog is struggling with high blood pressure, retinal detachment can occur. This can lead the dog to complete blindness if left untreated.
- Dry eyes
The best thing you can do for your pet is to make sure that they have regular check-ups, especially during their elder years. A veterinarian can spot illnesses and conditions that lead to vision loss before deterioration occurs. This will help to prolong the vision for your pet.
Signs Your Senior Dog is Losing Vision
If you are concerned that your older dog is starting to lose their vision, you need to look for the signs.
Here are a few of the top signs that your dog may be losing its vision:
- They do not want to jump up or down. A dog that can’t see that well will not want to go traipsing down the stairs or jumping into your car. They fear they will not be able to see and will stumble down entirely.
Some people might find this reluctance a sign of pain or arthritis, which is not entirely false. However, a dog suffering from pain rather than eyesight issues will have more reluctance going up than down.
- They are easily startled. Since your dog can’t see what is going on in front of them, they may end up becoming startled easily. That is because they don’t know what’s there, and when something comes into their field of vision, it’s frightening.
This can also be a sign that your dog is having hearing problems, so have them checked out by a veterinarian.
- They are clumsier than normal. Your dog likely didn’t run into the wall or other objects a few months or years ago. But if its eyesight is deteriorating, then he won’t be able to see what is in front of him. This may mean that he will bump into the wall here and there. He might walk into his water bowl on accident and even have trouble finding his water bowl.
- They suddenly become clingy. As your dog’s eyesight starts to go, it will likely become more afraid. It’s scary to lose vision. You are its safe space. If you notice that your once-independent dog is suddenly acting like it can’t do a single thing without you, it may be because it is frightened over its vision loss. The best thing you can do is be there for it.
How to Manage Vision Loss
Again, dogs can fare well with a lack of vision thanks to their heightened other senses. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t help them out.
Some of the best things to do are to:
- Make sure their water and food are in the same place. A change in normalcy can be harmful as your dog will not be able to find their necessities. Keep everything in the same place. Add a distinct marker, such as a rug, to make placement clearer.
- Keep the pathway cleared at all times. Walk through the home to check for things that could get in your dog’s way, such as shoes or toys. If the vision-impaired pooch can’t see these items, they can trip and stumble. This could lead to a potentially serious injury.
- Avoid adding anything new to the home that could be potentially detrimental, such as a table or carpet runner. Keep an extra close eye on things that are already in the home, too, and remove things that can be damaging, such as a table with sharp edges.
- Keep some type of noise on at all times, such as a radio or television. Noise is recommended for all dogs, not just blind ones. The noise provides comfort, which a blind dog particularly needs.
- Walk the dog through the home to become familiarized with the layout. Keep them on a leash and do it regularly. This is especially necessary for new layouts.
- Add scents to everyday items, such as toys, so they are easy to find, especially during playtime. This will help a blind dog be able to play their favorite games, such as fetch.
How to Tell If There Is a Problem With a Dog’s Eyesight
Unfortunately, dogs are prone to problems with their eyesight. Several different things can cause these eyesight issues.
It is important to seek medical treatment right away if you believe your dog is suffering from problems with its eyesight.
Quick treatment is necessary for canines suffering from an eye issue. It will make a recovery swifter and easier on your pup. It will also reduce the chance of further problems that can eventually lead to blindness.
The good news is, a dog’s eyes can be viewed as a window into their health. When a dog is suffering from an eye-related problem, they will show any number of these signs:
- Eyelids that appear red or irritated
- Watery eyes
- Eyelid swelling
- Eyes that are unable to open or close all the way
- Sticky substance on the eyes
- Excessive blinking
- Rubbing or scratching the eyes
- Sensitivity to all types of light
- Eyes that appear discolored, dull, or shiny
- Rapid eye movement
- White pupils
- Running into walls and other objects
- Eyes that appear to be bulging
If you see any of these symptoms appear, contact a veterinarian right away. These symptoms can be caused by a wide range of problems, big and small. Some of the most common causes of eye issues are:
- Ulcers in the cornea
- Dry eyes
- Ingrown eyelashes
- Exposure to smoke or harmful chemicals/products
- Prolapsed eyelid
- Pink eye
- Other eye infections
(Source: Vet Info)
A Dog’s Eyes Can Reveal Other Illnesses, Too
When your canine struggles with an infection or something more serious like diabetes or cataracts, it will show in their eyes. But these health concerns are not the only detectable problems that can be seen through the eyes.
Other conditions can show symptoms in a dog’s eyes, such as:
- Liver disease: Liver disease is a serious problem that your dog can be predisposed to genetically or be exposed to from trauma or infection. Liver disease occurs when there is a retention of bile. This can be seen in the form of jaundice. For a canine, it is far easier to tell through the eyes alone.
- Anemia: Abdominal and kidney diseases can lead to anemia. When it comes to canine suffering from anemia, you will notice a sclera that is paler than usual. The sclera is the white outer layer of the eye. If you notice advanced whitening, it could be due to anemia.
- Changes in the pupil: Changes in the pupil can signal a few different detrimental conditions. For one, pupils may become smaller when there is a pain in the eye. This pain can be caused by all types of things, such as trauma or infection.
When the pupils appear to be two different sizes, it could be a sign of head trauma. Blood between the cornea and pupil can also dictate head trauma. Sometimes, this will also occur when the dog has been poisoned.
- Cloudy eyes: Cloudy eyes are also concerning in a canine. Cloudy eyes indicate that there is an excessive amount of protein found in the white blood cells. This only occurs when there is some type of trauma or infection taking place. It can also be a sign of more severe conditions such as auto-immune diseases and cancers, the most common type being lymphoma.
Are Some Dogs More Predisposed to Eyesight Issues?
Yes, some dogs are more predisposed to eye problems more than others. This is good information to have on-hand, so you know how often your dog should have its eyes checked.
Here are some dog breeds to keep an extra special eye on, no pun intended:
- English Springer Spaniels are prone to glaucoma and cataracts.
- Siberian Huskies are known for their many eye issues, including cataracts, corneal dystrophy, and PRA (progressive retinal atrophy).
- Poodles are prone to glaucoma.
- Collies are predisposed to Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), which can be mild or severe.
- Great Danes can have entropion, which causes pain and inflammation.
- German Shepherds are known for their predisposition to Chronic Superficial Keratitis.
- Pugs’ eyes can literally pop out of their heads.
If you have any one of these breeds, be prepared to have regular veterinary check-ups, especially for their eye health. You may also consider investing in pet health insurance to help pay for the potential costs of treatment.
Dogs have unique vision. While not entirely black and white, they do lack some of the same color-seeing abilities of humans. However, they can see well at night and have excellent peripheral vision. They also rely on their nose over their eyesight. Dogs are prone to certain eye concerns that can be treated by a professional.