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What Colors Can Our Pets Actually See?

dogvision2There appears to be a mass confusion among pet owners and animal lovers alike concerning the amount of color that our non-human companions see in their world around them. According to most television shows, movies, and people that I’ve talked to, dogs are colorblind; some cartoons even show their perspective as completely black and white. But then why does it seem like a dog prefers certain colored toys over others? I’ve even been told by some that cats can see more color than dogs can, and I’ve heard conflicting information from others saying that dogs can see a few colors but not as many as we can. As if that isn’t confusing enough, what about other animals, like hamsters, rats, fish, parakeets, horses, pigs, chickens, chameleons, etc.? Well, it’s time that we tackle this issue once and for all and answer the burning question, “What colors can our pets actually see?”humanvision

What Colors Can Dogs See?: Let’s start with dogs, shall we? Yes, dogs have some color-blindness compared to humans’ vision spectrum (pictured above), but their world isn’t in black and white as various forms of media portray. They actually can see blue and yellow hues, and a sort of gray-ish green-ish color as well, but unfortunately no reds – which by association also means no oranges or purples either. In fact, this site called Dog Vision enables you to see the world how they see it, which is a kind of muddy gray-green speckled with blue and yellow accents:



It’s basically the same level of color-blindedness that some humans are afflicted with, but a little bit worse strictly because dog’s eyesight in general is worse than that of humans. The good news is that they can pretty much see the same spectrum of brightness discrimination as humans, so they at least can distinguish black from white, dark gray from light gray, etc. At the moment, there are inventions and specific glasses that humans can wear to be able to see all of the colors in their full vibrancy – so I have no doubts that this technology will eventually be transferred to our pets as well!

Okay, But What About Cats?: Cats can pretty much see the same amount of color as dogs, so whoever told me that they can see more color is obviously a biased cat lover. Their vision spectrum is also made up of yellows, blues, and processes red hues as grayish-greens. Although they cannot see as many colors as we humans can, they have a couple of advantages that we don’t such as being able to see a 200 degree panoramic range as opposed to our 180 degree field of vision. So basically they can see a little bit more peripherally, but the fact that they are extremely nearsighted doesn’t really help. This is pretty much what cats see as opposed to humans, thanks to Business Insider:


You can see that they see more in their frame of eyesight, but it’s pretty blurry since they are extremely nearsighted. That’s why it may appear that your cat stares at you sometimes, because they can see your blurry self and they are trying to focus on your features. They have 20/200 vision meaning that they have to be 20 feet away minimum to see things that we can see up to 200 feet away. They do have another advantage though that makes up for the lack of color/acuity, which you probably know about: nightvision!


What cats’ eyes lack in cone receptors (the parts of the retina that pick up colors) they definitely make up for in their rod receptors (parts of the retina that pick up light)! Cats can see roughly six times better in the dark than humans can, because more rods equates to more light being absorbed by the retina. Even though the colors are all muddy gray-ish hue, they can still see as if they are in broad daylight, so I think they win this round of “Who has better vision,” don’t you? Don’t get too upset though, because a lush, green landscape does in fact look like a bunch of dead grass and trees to them:


Yikes! Oh well, they don’t know what they are missing, right?

Interesting, What About Birds?: This is where things get really surprising, so get ready to have your mind blown! Apparently while humans have three different types of cones (for the three primary colors), and dogs/cats have two types (for blue and yellow), birds have FOUR! So according to Bird Channel, this basically means that they are able to detect a FOURTH type of color, making an even larger amount of detectable color combinations! This mysterious fourth cone is able to pick up ultraviolet light, which humans can only see when using a blacklight to illuminate these colors not visible to the naked eye. So what exactly does a bird see? Get ready to be awestruck:birdvisionPretty trippy, right? It is simply amazing that this evolutionary trait exists in nature, and zoologists believe that its purpose is so that birds can detect these subtle differences in order to find an appropriate mate. As if being the most beautiful bird wasn’t enough, they have to have the prettiest ultraviolet light combinations too? Sounds like a lot of pressure and stress to me!


Does it upset you that birds can see more colors than we humans can? To be honest, I am a little jealous that the whites, greys, and blacks that appear to us are actually gorgeous neon colors in their eyes. But, this could make things a little confusing when navigating day-to-day life so I guess it just wasn’t meant to be! Also, if you really wanted to, you could get an ultraviolet camera and simulate their vision for yourself. Here’s a pretty interesting blog entry about color vision’s function in general and its purpose in nature!

What About Everyone Else?: The quality of vision that certain animals can see varies from species to species, but for the most part, mammals besides humans and apes all see the same amount of color as dogs and cats do. When it comes to reptiles and fish, some can see as birds do, meaning the full range of colors as well as ultraviolet hues. It varies from species to species, and some snakes (such as pythons) can even see with infrared capabilities aka heat vision! This means that they view their surroundings in different colors that correspond to how warm objects and creatures are around them – warm temperatures being represented by “warm” colors (red, orange, yellow) and cooler temperatures indicated by “cool” colors (blue, purple, green). This is what a cat would look like to a snake who sees with infrared vision:


I highly recommend that you research more about which specific animals see the world through a colored lens, color-blind lens, ultraviolet lens, and infrared lens! Who knows, there could be even MORE ways that the creatures around us see that are even more fascinating. But at least for now, you know what to tell people when they claim that animals see in black and white – so go spread your newfound knowledge!

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Brenda Lee Ellis August 26, 2016, 6:51 am

    I would like to add that the mantis shrimp pretty much blows all other contenders out of the water. They have one of the most elaborate visual systems ever discovered. Their eyes contain 16 types of colour receptive cones, they can perceive both multispectral images and polarized light. Each eye has depth perception. Combined, these attributes may help them detect predators and fertile mates easily. Example: some fish species are transparent or well-camouflaged, but not to the mantis shrimp. Because they fluoresce during mating rituals, these visual adaptations enable them to detect fertility. The aquarium I worked at had one on display that hammered the glass repeatedly in the same spot until it cracked and started leaking. All because it wanted to get to the female in the next tank. LOL

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