Can Dogs See Color?

Can your furry four-legged friend even see that yellow tennis ball in the grass?

At some point in your life, if you’ve wondered, “Can dogs see color?” you’ve probably come across the “fact” that dogs are completely colorblind and only see black and white. But according to the American Kennel Club, this common myth is based on research done in 1937. The myth was further popularized in the 1960s when researchers hypothesized that primates were the only mammal able to see color. But before you pull out some black and white movies to enjoy with your pup, rest assured that this “fact” is totally untrue! That being said, if you notice your dog’s eyes are cloudy, you should see your vet; that’s just one of the signs your healthy dog is actually really sick.

Can dogs see color?

“Yes! Dogs can see color,” Dr. Zay Satchu, Chief Veterinary Officer of Bond Vet, told RD. “Both humans and animals have different types of cells in the back of our eyeballscalled rods and cones—that help us see. Rods detect motion and help with nighttime vision, and cones help with color and detail in what we see. Humans have three kinds of cones, meaning we see color and detail very well, while dogs have two kinds, meaning they can still pick up on colors, but probably can’t differentiate between forest and lime green as easily.” So the idea that dogs are totally colorblind is one of the “facts” about animals that you actually have all wrong. Find out if it’s the same for cats: Can cats see color?

What colors do dogs see?

While the nuances of some colors are lost on dogs, they still do have quite the color spectrum, including some colors that humans can’t see! “Most dogs can’t see much of red or green at all,” says Dr. Satchu. “The other ‘color’ that exists that humans can’t see but dogs can is ultraviolet, meaning ‘beyond violet.’ We’re still evaluating the true purpose of this vision, but we think it has to do with the ability to pick up on the kinds of substances that contain ultraviolet light, like urine and blood, that help with tracking out in the wild.” The best colors for your pup’s vision are likely in the blue and yellow tones.

The AKC also points out how ironic it is that the most popular colors for dog toys made today are bright oranges and reds, colors your pup is only going to see in gray and brown tones. A better choice? That yellow tennis ball, or something bright blue, which will contrast well against the gray/brown tone that dogs see when they look at something green, like your grassy yard. The next time you’re wondering, “Can dogs see color?”, think about the specific color, but if you want an even better idea, download the Dog Vision app and take a look for yourself! Unfortunately, taking a look from their point of view won’t get you any closer to understanding the reasons behind the weirdest dog behaviors

Isabel Roy
Isabel Roy is the newsletter editor at Reader’s Digest. She writes and reports on home, culture, and general interest stories. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse in 2017 with a B.A. in Rhetoric and Writing.