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Can dogs see in the dark?

Dogs see differently than humans, but their night vision is actually pretty good.

It's easy to assume that your dog sees the same things and ways as you do. But that’s actually far from the truth. Dogs' vision is quite different from that of humans due to the way their eyes evolved to help them, as natural predators, hunt potential prey. 

If you’ve ever wondered if dogs can see in the dark, the answer is yes — in fact, dogs have much better night vision than you do.

The differences between dog and human vision 

There are lots of differences between human and dog vision, some of which might be surprising. For instance, where most people see a vibrant array of colors, dogs actually don’t see the same color spectrum.

“The dog’s visual acuity is different from that of most people. It all starts with their eye structure,” Dr. Alex Schechter, DVM, founder of Burrwood Veterinary in Royal Oak, Michigan, says. “Dogs’ retinas can distinguish two colors — they have dichromatic vision. These are blue-violet and yellow. They can also distinguish shades of gray.”

Generally speaking, dogs also don’t see as well as humans. In other words, while perfect vision in humans is 20/20 vision, Dr. Schechter says dogs typically have 20/75 vision. This means that they have to be closer to an object (20-feet away from it) to see what a human would see standing 75-feet away from the same object. Of course, some humans have poor vision, and some dogs have better vision. 

“Some breeds, particularly Labrador dogs, have better vision and have a vision close to 20/20,” Dr. Schechter explains.

Do dogs have night vision?

While dogs may not see quite as well as most humans during the day, dogs can actually see better in the dark. 

“Dogs have a larger pupil to absorb more light and a higher concentration of rod cells in the center of the retina to work optimally in dim light,” Dr. Schechter says. “Humans’ pupils are smaller, making it harder to see at night.”

Most dogs have several adaptations for low-light vision, too. Their light-sensitive compounds in the retina respond better to dim light. Dr. Schechter says the lens is then located closer to the retina, increasing the amount of light that enters, and a nearby mirror-like structure, the tapetum, provides a second chance for light to get into the eye.

So although you may have a hard time seeing around your backyard once the sun goes down, your dog should be able to spot anything wandering through the area without much problem.

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Can dogs see in the dark like cats

Your pup may have better eyesight than most humans at night, but their eyes still won’t be able to make out as much as a cat’s. This really comes down to the fact that cats are nocturnal animals, whereas dogs are not, so a cat’s eyes are evolved to allow even more light to enter to make night vision more clear. That said, a dog’s field of vision is wider than that of a cat’s (or a human’s). 

“Compared to cats and humans, dogs have a wider field of vision. They can see at 240 degrees, compared to 200 degrees for cats, and 180 degrees for humans,” Dr. Schechter explains. So where your cat may be able to see better at night, your dog’s peripheral vision is more impressive than your cat’s.

What to do if your dog’s night vision seems impaired

Even though dogs tend to be able to see better in the dark than humans, that doesn’t mean your dog can’t be affected by vision loss or problems. So if you’ve noticed your dog bumping around at night, or if they seem to be having a harder time with navigation (this may happen as they age), it’s important to pay attention.

If your dog seems to have trouble seeing, you’ll want to think about protecting them from any potential nighttime wildlife. “Keep your dog indoors during the night. This will decrease their chances of encountering any wildlife or other animals that may be more active at night,” Dr. Schechter says. “Add nightlights around the house, and don’t make drastic changes to furniture arrangements and layouts.”

You should also remember that your own night vision is generally more limited than your dog’s. If they were to get out and get disoriented or lost at night, you want to be able to find them quickly and easily. “You can use reflective collars and pet trackers to help locate your dog if they get lost or run away,” Dr. Schechter says.

And of course, if you think your dog’s vision is impacting their life in a big way, consult with your veterinarian. While sometimes vision problems are associated with age, there may be other, underlying issues. 

The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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