There's a physiological factor that debunks popular theories about your pets' vision.

By Nashia Baker
April 27, 2021
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Thanks to common cat and dog behaviors, we can usually understand what our pets are trying to tell us. But even though subtle cues help us get a peek into their world, you may still be wondering what exactly it's like to see life through their eyes. Despite the common thought that cats and dogs only have black-and-white eyesight, they do see in color just like us, but the structure of their eyes limit all the hues they can visualize.

close up of dog looking window
Credit: Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images

What Dogs and Cats See

"Dogs and cats can see in color; however, it is with a decreased spectrum of colors," Dr. Jennifer Freeman, DVM, PetSmart's resident veterinarian and pet care expert, says. "They see in predominately blues and yellows, similar to a person that is red-green colorblind." This is possible because of cone cells, which are found in the retina of all animals, adds Dr. Terri Baldwin, DVM, MS, DACVO, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist at BluePearl Pet Hospital in Tampa, Florida. When it comes to dogs and cats (which belong to the dichromat species since they only see primarily in two colors), though, Dr. Baldwin says that their cones perceive color that also lets them see green, gray, black, and white.  

Another unique eye feature that dogs and cats both have is the tapetum (a reflective structure underlying their retina), which increases light, so their eyesight stays clear at night. "Additionally, dogs and cats have more rods in their retina which help them see better in the dark, as well," Dr. Baldwin explains, noting that this harkens back to their hunting ancestors. "Cats have an additional advantage in that their pupil is shaped like a slit so that it helps allow in more light in the dark," she adds. Another plus? Dogs and cats have less sensitivity to brightness and the shade because of their eye structures.

How Their Eyesight Is Different from Humans

To put things in perspective, humans are trichromats, so we have three different types of cones that give us the ability to see a wide range of colors. Other than the differences in dogs' and cats' ability to see color and in the dark more than humans, they also have sharp eyesight, which Dr. Baldwin notes as "limited fine detail vision" since it allows them to see movements of prey while hunting. Surprisingly, these beloved pets are still more nearsighted than humans for the most part, so they have some trouble seeing far in the distance, according to Dr. Freeman.

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