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Dog And Cat Vision: Who Sees Better? Are they Colorblind? A Vet Explains (2023)

Dog and cat looking at each other

Last Updated on 2 months by Dr. Shannon Barrett

Ever wondered why your furry friends react differently to their surroundings?

You’re not alone.

As a veterinarian, I am often asked if dogs are colorblind or if cats can see in the dark.

These are common questions we have as pet owners.

Ready to peek into your pet’s perspective?

Let’s “see” through their eyes!

The Unique Characteristics of Cat Vision

A significant component responsible for a cat’s keen eyesight includes its large, elliptically shaped corneas that help them gather light.

Cat with blue eyes
Cats have elliptically shaped corneas

In addition, felines possess extra rods within their eyes, which amplify night vision.

This also allows them to detection of motion in their periphery – a vital asset when hunting prey!

Sensitivity to Light

Our feline friends have a fascinating advantage in low-light conditions.

This is due to their exceptional sensitivity to light.

Their corneas are elliptically shaped (see image above).

They also have extra rods in their eyes.

These rods help them gather more light in low light conditions than humans or dogs.

These adaptation help them see better at dusk and dawn.

They also enhance their ability to spot the slight movements of prey in dimly lit areas.

An impressive feature called tapetum lucidum behind cats’ retinas acts like a mirror, reflecting any remaining light through the cat’s eye, for a second chance at detection.

Cat chasing prey in grass

This makes way for remarkable night vision that is about twice as efficient as dogs’.

As pet owners, creating an environment with varied lighting can help your cat’s unique ocular abilities shine brightly.

The Distinctive Traits of Dog Vision

Dogs have a unique visual trait – they rely more on motion detection than fine detail in their vision.

Sensitivity to Motion

We all know that dogs are incredibly energetic creatures, always on the move and ready to chase after anything that catches their eye.

This is because dogs have a remarkable sensitivity to motion.

Dog running after a bird

Dogs have an easy time detecting movement.

Their visual system is designed to pick up even the slightest change in their surroundings, making them excellent hunters and trackers.

Whether it’s a squirrel darting across the yard or a toy being thrown across the room, dogs’ eyes are finely tuned to notice these quick movements.

So next time you’re playing fetch with your furry friend, remember just how keen their vision is when it comes to spotting moving objects!

Human Vision

Girl with eyes open
  • Humans have excellent color vision with three types of cone photoreceptors detecting red, green, and blue light.
  • We have a high density of cone photoreceptors giving good daytime vision. But we see poorly at night.
  • Our eyes have a smaller field of view than cats.
  • Humans have the highest visual acuity among mammals at around 20/20 vision. We see fine details better than dogs or cats.

In summary, dogs, cats, and humans have unique visual systems optimized for their needs.

Dogs excel at detecting motion, cats at seeing in dim light, and humans at seeing color and fine detail.

While our senses of vision vary, they all serve the vital purpose of experiencing the world around us.

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Comparing Dog and Cat Vision

When it comes to visual resolution and acuity, Dogs have the advantage over cats.

However, cats make up for their slightly weaker vision with superior sensitivity to light.

Evaluating Visual Acuity

Eye Chart

Visual acuity for humans is often expressed as 20/20.

This means we need to be 20 feet away from an object to see it. 

Visual acuity decreases as the bottom number gets larger.

A result of 20/40 means you can see at 20 feet what those with normal vision can see from 40 feet away.

Visual acuity in a dog is 20/75.

This means that a person with normal vision could make out details on an object 75 feet away that a dog could only distinguish from 20 feet away.

Visual acuity in a cat is approximately 20/150.

This means that a person with normal vision could make out details on an object from 75 feet away that a cat could only distinguish from 150 feet away.

Dog looking into distance

Depth Perception

Understanding depth perception is crucial when it comes to comparing human retina to the vision of dogs and cats.

Depth perception refers to our ability to see objects in three dimensions and accurately judge their distance from us.

Accurate depth perception (stereopsis) happens when the two eyes view the world from slightly different angles, creating two images that the brain fuses into one image with depth.

Dog wearing glasses

Dogs likely only have 30-60 degrees of binocular overlap, compared to around 140 degrees in cats and humans.

However, animals and humans with just one eye can still perceive depth to some degree.

This means that cats have similar depth perception to us, whereas dogs have decreased depth perception.

The exception may be Siamese cats.

Siamese Cat

Studies in Siamese have shown that the optic nerves are miswired.

The nerves from the right eye connect mainly to the brain’s left side, while the nerves from the left eye connect predominantly to the right side of the brain.

This abnormal wiring likely leads to the crossed-eyed look common in many Siamese cats.

They may have little to no depth perception, which explains why they tend to bob their heads side to side.

This bobbing gives them more visual information to compensate for their visual defects.

Related Content: Dogs Sense of Smell

Color Vision

flowers in black and white

It’s a common misconception that dogs and cats are colorblind.

However, they do see the world differently than we do.  

While humans have a wide range of color vision, our furry friends have more limited abilities in this area.

Cats can see shades of green and blue, but their color perception is less vibrant than ours.

On the other hand, dogs have what’s similar to “red-green” color blindness in humans.

This means they see the world in shades of gray, yellow, and blue.

Dogs

  • Yellows
  • Greys
  • Blues
  • Violets

Cats

  • Violet
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Yellow 
  • Grey

So next time you’re playing with your pet and trying to catch their attention with colorful toys or treats, remember that they may not see all those vibrant hues that we do!

Night Vision

At night, cats and dogs have unique abilities that give them an edge over humans.

Cats, in particular, are known for their exceptional night vision.

They have a tapetum behind their retinas, which acts like a mirror and reflects light through the photoreceptor cells.

Cat with green eyes

This helps to enhance visual sensitivity in low-light conditions.

Additionally, cats’ eyes contain extra rods, specialized cells more sensitive to dim light than cones (which detect color).

As a result, they can see with about six times less light than we can.

Dogs also have impressive night vision capabilities, although cats’ are more extraordinary.

Their eyes contain fewer rods than those of felines but still enough to enable them to navigate in the dark.

Do Dogs and Cats Watch TV?

Dogs watching TV

Cats and Dogs absolutely watch TV!

We don’t need science to tell us that.

My shepherd knows when another dog is on TV, regardless if that dog barks.

One of my feline patients loves to watch birds on the computer. He even goes behind the computer to find out where they went!  

Cat with TV remote

The question is whether they see it the same way we do.

When trying to understand how our pets see TV, we need to look at flicker fusion rates.  

The flicker fusion rate measures the frequency at when a flickering light appears constant. 

This rate is not the same for all animals.

An animal that moves quickly through its environment will have a higher flicker fusion rate compared to one that does not need to move as quickly.

For instance, falcons have a rate of over 100 Hz.

In comparison, dogs have flicker fusion rates of 70-80 Hz and cats of 40-60 Hz.

Humans have a rate of 45 Hz.

When we compare this to older TV screens of about 60 Hz, they appear fluid to us but may flicker when dogs watch them.

However, newer 120Hz TV models produce a smoother, continuous visual stream for our canine and feline friends.

We believe that these newer models offer a TV experience closer to what we see.

Visual Field of View

Dog covering his eye

Dogs and cats have unique visual fields of view that differ from humans.

Dogs have a greater field of peripheral vision when compared to both cats and humans.

On average, they can see approximately 240 degrees.

This visual field varies between breeds.

Dogs with shorter noses, such as brachycephalic breeds, have different visual fields than dogs with longer snouts, such as German Shepherds.

This is the widest field of view of all of us.

Cats have a 200-degree field of view, whereas ours is only 180 degrees.

This broader range allows dogs to scan their surroundings better.

Conclusion

While dogs may have better color vision, cats far surpass dogs’ ability to see in the dark.

As pet owners, understanding these differences can help us better cater to our pets‘ needs and understand their behavior.

Who has the best vision?

It depends on what your are looking for.

Are you stalking prey at night?

Trying to find something in bright light?

I’m sure your cat thinks her vision is superior, given the condescending look she likely gives you when you trip over her in the dark.

Why do dogs tilt their heads when looking at something?

When a dog tilts its head while observing something, it is likely trying to adjust its ears to improve spatial perception or listening ability. It could also be a response driven by curiosity or confusion.

Which species has the best night vision?

Cats have superior night vision when compared to dogs or humans.

How can I help my dog or cat see better?

Cats and dogs see better in low light than we do but cannot see in complete darkness. Leaving a night light on for them at night can help them navigate. Avoid bright lights for them since they are more light-sensitive than we are.  

Dr. Shannon Barrett brings an exceptional blend of academic excellence and professional expertise to the world of veterinary medicine. With a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Western University of Health Sciences, where she graduated with honors, and dual Bachelor degrees in Biological Sciences and Psychology, her depth of knowledge is extensive. A member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Barrett's insights and contributions to pet health have been featured in leading publications such as Rover, MarketWatch, and Newsweek.

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Dr. Shannon Barrett

Veterinarian with a Passion for Educating Pet Parents

Pets change our lives for the better and we are always trying to do the same for them. This site is a combination of tips and product recommendations to enhance the lives of our pets and the people owned by them.  Thanks for stopping by!

Dr. Shannon Barrett

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