As far back as I can remember, “Are cats and dogs color blind?” has been an ongoing question that initiates many conversations and drums up much controversy.
Oh, if only we were capable of seeing through our pets’ eyes for just a short time, maybe we would know the final answer.
Here’s the bottom line: Yes, dogs are partially color blind, and so are cats. But contrary to what some people think, they do see some colors, not just shades of black and white.
Paulette Clancy of Cornell University points out that many people are of the misguided opinion that dogs and cats are able to see see no colors. They believe that dogs and cats see everything only as grays. That’s a myth.
Cats and dogs are just like color blind humans, seeing some colors but not all of them. For the bright daytime light, cells known as cones are needed. Humans have three kinds of cones, enabling them to see blue, red and green.
Cats and dogs, on the other hand, have just two kinds of cone cells (blue and green sensitive), allowing them to see only partial color.
Luckily for dogs and cats, missing out on seeing life in glorious full color is really no big deal. Brightness and motion are far more important aspects of what our pets see.
Also, while we’re on the subject, contrary to the legend that cats can see perfectly in total darkness, they do not have those superpowers. But cats require only about one-sixth of the light that humans do, making their night vision a whole lot better than ours.
Who Started the Color Myth?
It is almost certain that the ongoing discussions of whether cats and dogs can see in color gained momentum when studies on the subject surfaced in the early 1900s. Pets Adviser happened upon a 1920s article in Popular Science magazine claiming that cats and dogs are completely blind to colors. The reporting was based on studies back then showing that the animals could easily tell the difference between shades of gray but had much more difficulty in differentiating between colors.
By the 1960s doubts arose about that conclusion. In more recent studies, dogs tested were able to easily distinguish red and blue, being particularly adept in blues. However, they can’t tell green from red. Neither can cats. In humans, this type of partial color blindness is known as deuteranopia.
So, now we we can say for a fact that cats and dogs do in fact see things in color rather than only in black and white. But, if we want to get technical, they also meet the basic definition of color blindness (they have trouble differentiating certain colors).
A beautiful green meadow or a breathtaking red-and-orange sunset is awesome to humans. But to our pets, I suppose a life well-lived is just as beautiful.
- Paulette Clancy, Cornell University: Cats, dogs can see some color
- Vermont Veterinary Medical Association: Are dogs color blind?
- Mad Sci Network: Are cats color blind?
Top photo of dog eye: min51/Flickr