Why Are Cats and Dogs Color-Blind?

In recent studies testing for color-blindness, dogs easily distinguished between red and blue — however, neither cats nor dogs could tell green from red.

Cats only need about one-sixth of the light that humans need to see, making their night vision a whole lot better than ours. By: lachlanrogers

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 can’t see any colors and only view everything in gray tones. That’s a myth.

Cats and Dogs See Some Colors

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.

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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.

Night Vision

Luckily for dogs and cats, missing out on seeing life in all its full-color glory is not a 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.

To learn more about dog vision, watch this quick, informative video:

Who Started the Color Myth?

The discussion of whether cats and dogs can see in color gained momentum when studies on the subject surfaced in the early 1900s.

Petful 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 in the day showing that the animals could easily tell the difference between shades of gray but had much more difficulty in differentiating between colors.

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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 orange sunset is awesome to humans. But, to our pets, at least, I suppose a life well-lived is just as beautiful.

Gayle Hickman

View posts by Gayle Hickman
Gayle Hickman has been researching and writing about pet behaviors since 2011. In addition to Petful, her articles have appeared on Reader's Digest, Yahoo Shine and WebVet, to name a few.

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