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Do Dogs Have Night Vision?

Q&A: Do Dogs Have Night Vision?

Being able to see at night comes easy for a dog.

Their pupils are large, and that allows more light to be let in to the eye. Their retina is also laden with cells that are very sensitive to both light and motion, and they can easily distinguish between lights and shadows.

Keep reading for a more complete “do dogs have night vision?” answer, including:

  • What does a dog’s vision look like?
  • Dog night vision problems
  • Can dogs be afraid of the dark?, and…
  • Do dogs need a light on at night?

Related Reading:  Do dogs sleep with their eyes open?

CC Image “Space Dogs from, uh, Space!” courtesy of Michael Basial/Flickr.

This is one of those subjects where you think you just automatically know the answer.

Well, they say dogs have night vision.

But have you ever wondered, who is this “they” that we so often hear about?

You know, “they” say if you play with fire, you’ll wet the bed, “they” say eating carrots is good for your eyes, and “they” say dogs have night vision.

We decided to take a deeper look into the issue of how well dogs see in the dark and why that might be. As it turns out, there’s actually some truth to that, from a scientific point of view.

And we want to let you in on the facts as well!

What Does A Dog’s Vision Look Like?

As it turns out, a dog’s vision is a lot different than ours is.

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For instance, they don’t see color in the same way that we do.

As humans, we have different receptors in our eyes for blue, green and red, individually.

Dogs, however, have one receptor that sees both red and green, so that the two are nearly indistinguishable.

On the American Kennel Club’s website, they offer a look into a dog’s concept of color, and you can see that for yourself here.

It’s actually pretty interesting to see the similarities, and yet the differences, between our abilities to see.

Aside from seeing color differently than we do, dogs also have more sensitivity in their eyes at dusk and dawn, called “twilight sensitivity”.

Do dogs have night vision?
CC Image “dog on a tree trunk with glowing eyes” compliments of jodi marr/flickr

This is primarily instinctual and for the purposes of hunting.

It’s just something they haven’t lost after years of being pets instead of wild animals.

Being able to see at night comes easy for a dog.

Their pupils are large, and that allows more light to be let in to the eye. Their retina is also laden with cells that are very sensitive to both light and motion, and they can easily distinguish between lights and shadows.

Dogs, like other animals that are predatory by nature, have a membrane near the back of their eye that is somewhat like a mirror, called the tapetum lucidum.

It takes the light that hasn’t been absorbed by the light sensitive cells to be rebounded back to the retina, which enables them to take in even more light for better night vision.

Dog Night Vision Problems

While there are many problems that can occur in a dog’s eyes that will cause them issues, including cataracts and glaucoma, another that is much harder to catch is retinal atrophy.

It’s an eye disease that is inherited, by nature, and leads to the slow progressive breakdown of the retina in a dog’s eye.

Since it’s painless to the dog and there are little to no signs that it’s occurring, it can be very hard to catch.

However, one of the first signs is a glowing or shininess, to the dog’s eye.

Ultimately, this translated to night-blindness, but overall, to complete blindness.

Any breed can get this disease, but there are some breeds that are prone to it from the start, including Bull and English Mastiffs, Samoyed Huskies and Siberian Huskies.

Overall, any problem with the eye has the possibility of causing problems with a dog’s night vision abilities.

If you see any signs, such as excessive tearing, redness, droopy eyes or discharge, make sure you visit your vet to find out for sure.

Can Dogs Be Afraid of the Dark?

Some people are absolutely convinced that their dogs are afraid of the dark.

We usually base this belief on behaviors we see in our dogs when the light goes out. Fear of the dark has been well documented in humans for years and has even been linked to anxiety on many occasions.

Before attributing you dog’s behavior to a fear of the dark, however, it’s best to rule out everything else that might be causing it.

In essence, the fear of the dark is, more or less, a fear of the things that cannot be seen once the lights go out.

With that in mind, your dog’s anxiety or reluctance in going into a dark area could be more about the fact that they can’t see as well as they normally should.

Some dogs, when left alone in an area that is darker than normal, might show their dissatisfaction in many different ways.

They might bark, howl, salivate, pace back and forth or even have “accidents” in the house, when that isn’t really like them at all.

This same behavior is often attributed to separation anxiety, but if the house is dark, or if you’re leaving your dog alone in the early hours or late hours of the day, it might be more attributable to a change in their night vision.

Do Dogs Need A Light On At Night?

The ultimate answer to this question is…

It really depends on the dog.

Most dogs have a great ability to see in situations where light is very low. Even when the house is pitch dark, your dog is likely to navigate his way around just fine, simply by memory. It gets even easier for them if a streetlight just happens to be shining through the window.

Some signs that your dog might be afraid of the dark include:

  • Tearing something up
  • Dragging trash out
  • Being overly upset when you come back home
  • Having hurt claws from digging around the door
  • Hiding

These can also be signs of separation anxiety, especially if your neighbors report that he was barking or howling more than usual.

However, make sure to take note if these behaviors happen all the time, or only when he is left alone while the house is dark.

That is really the telltale sign.

In Closing

As dog owners, we all have specific tales to tell about how our dogs act at certain times.

How about you?

Have you ever thought that your own dog might be afraid of the dark?

Does he seem to have trouble getting around in the dark, more so than other dogs? We’d love to hear your story, so be sure to leave them in the comments below!

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