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Is My Dog Colorblind?

Short answer:  Pretty much.  But let’s take a closer look and what does that mean for us as our pup’s adoring fan?

So, what exactly is color blindness?  In essence it describes an inability to distinguish between colors or even to see some colors at all.  It’s caused by the eye missing some photoreceptors, which are color-detecting molecules.

Now it was long thought that our pups could only see shades of gray, but we have learned that this is not true.  For dogs, it’s very similar to colorblindness in humans, though there are other visual issues at play too.  It’s estimated that 4.5% of humans have some degree of being colorblind, an inherited genetic trait that is more common in men.   We’ll note here that all dogs are.

The most common human form of this is red-green color blindness, meaning they cannot see those colors.  This is also what we understand dogs to see (or not see).  They are, therefore, great at seeing shades of blues and yellows (as well as white and gray), but don’t really recognize red and green at all (they just appear as shades of gray to brown).

So that red ball we thought was so cool is way more likely to get lost in the grass than a yellow one.  Maybe most immediately it means we should be leaning toward yellow and blue toys and forgetting the red and green ones.  You might even notice Trixie’s toy preferences to lean in those directions.

Yet there are other differences in how a dog perceives the world visually from us.  Our pups also can’t see quite as clearly and don’t differentiate brightness as well.  It suggests that their vision is a bit fuzzy and duller.

But canine vision is superior in detecting motion and can also see better in low light conditions.  There are even apps and websites that roughly simulate a dog’s vision. 

Here’s Flynn on a porch with Christmas lights taken with the Apple compatible app Dog Optics ($0.99 on the app store).  See how the red and green disappear? 

                    What you see . . .

   . . . Something like your pup sees

So, our fur babies lose a little of the color brilliance we know.  Yet let’s remember that while we may see some of this as a disadvantage, we have to remember their superpowered nose, so they have a world of sensations that we don’t.  Not to mention those supreme capacities to stay present in the moment and radiate the love that make them our perfect companions!


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