Are Dogs Color-Blind?

3 min read
Jan 23, 2022

What’s the single biggest myth about dogs? There are certainly many to consider, and several of which you might not even realize are myths. For instance, dogs don’t ONLY eat grass when they are sick, dogs’ mouths aren’t cleaner than the human mouths, and a dog’s age isn’t quite equal to seven human years. But what about this one: dogs are all completely incapable of seeing color.

Is it true? In short, no.  In reality, dogs are only partially color-blind, meaning they can see colors, but they perceive them more like humans with red-green color blindness do as opposed to the majority of us with “normal” eyesight.

The Science Behind It

It all starts with rods and cones in the eyes. Rods help creatives (human and canine alike) recognize how bright or dim something is, which helps more with the black and white spectrum of things. Dogs have highly receptive rods, which means they have clear eyesight when viewing objects on the light spectrum. To them, dark tints are extra dark and light tints are extra light, hence the association with black and white.

Cones, on the other hand, help us all identify color. Because dogs only have two cone cells in their eyes (“dichromatic”), enabling them to see just shades of blue and green. Humans, on theother hand, have three cones (“trichromatic”), which lets them see red as well. For regular human eyes, blue, green and red are the basic primary colors that all other colors are made from (with the occasional assist from black and white, of course).

Now, imagine taking red completely out of that combination. A color like purple, which is made from a dense mixture of blue and red, would suddenly look vastly different—virtually unrecognizable to us humans as “purple.” But, thanks to the remaining red, a dog would still be able to perceive some color there. In fact, dogs recognize red as more of a brownish-black, much different than what a healthy human eye would perceive. Meanwhile, colors like orange and green appear as yellow, and the colors they are best able to distinguish between are yellow and blue. This is why so many canine agility courses are vibrantly painted with these two colors.

Where Did This Myth Originate?

The basis for this myth is highly disputed and, basically, no one really knows for sure where it initially came from. One theory in particular, that has gained some amount of acceptance, claims that the myth originated and became prominent in the 1920's due to the existence of a widely circulated scientific article claiming dogs (and cats) were completely incapable of perceiving color. This theory, and the research conducted, was eventually questioned by scientists decades later, who promptly dispelled the research as archaic and concluded the findings were inaccurate.

Another relatively popular origin story claims the myth originates from one Will Judy, the founder of National Dog Week. He was supposedly the first to claim dogs could only see single shades and tones, all in grayed-out tints, and even detailed his hypotheses in a famous 1937 manual. Again, however, there is no way to confirm this was actually the very first instance of this misconception being spread to a widespread audience.

The Realities of What to Look For

Fortunately, it turns out that not all dogs are hindered by complete color-blindness after all. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other eye-related health issues that could potentially compromise their sight.

Symptoms of impaired vision in dogs can range from the obvious to the unassuming. For example, if your dog isn’t eating right, it might be because he or she can’t find his or her bowl. Stress can also cause a loss of appetite, and eyesight issues can certainly be stressful. Other signs to look for are discharge, tearing, an inability to keep the eye(s) open, and unequal pupil sizes. These could all be potential symptoms of various canine eyesight issues such cataracts, corneal ulcers, infection, injuries from things like scratching or bumping into objects, and even tumors. If you notice any of these abnormal behaviors, contact your veterinarian right away! In the event of an expensive or serious condition, having an active dog insurance policy can help.

Protect your Pets

Enroll in 3 Easy Steps

Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances. 

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.