Both cats and dogs have color vision, but they see colors differently than humans do. Cats and dogs are dichromats, meaning they have two types of color receptor cones in their eyes. Humans are trichromats and have three types of color receptor cones, enabling us to see a wider range of colors.
Here are quick answers to some common questions about how cats and dogs see color:
- Do cats see color? Yes, but not as vividly as humans.
- Do dogs see color? Yes, but more muted than humans.
- Do cats and dogs see color the same as humans? No, they have fewer color receptor cones.
- What colors do cats see? Studies suggest cats see blues and greens, but reds and pinks may appear more gray.
- What colors do dogs see? Dogs are thought to see blues, greens, and yellows but have limited ability to distinguish reds.
The Science Behind Cat and Dog Vision
The ability to see color relies on special photoreceptor cells in the eyes called cones. Humans have three types of cones that are each sensitive to different wavelengths of light corresponding to red, green, and blue. This trichromatic vision allows us to see the full spectrum of colors.
Cats and dogs, however, are dichromats – they only have two types of cones. Scientists believe the cones in cat eyes are most sensitive to blues and greens. While they can distinguish between blue, green, and yellow, reds and pinks may appear more gray or even blue to a cat.
The limited color vision of cats is due to genetics. Their cones lack the photopigment that in humans detects red light. This phenomenon where animals have fewer types of color detecting cones is common among mammals.
Experts speculate that dog eyes have cones primarily sensitive to blue and yellow. As a result, they have some ability to pick out blues, greens and yellows, while reds appear more neutrals and lack vividness. But there is still much to uncover about how dogs perceive color.
How Color Vision Develops in Cats and Dogs
Kittens and puppies are born colorblind and only begin to see color vision at around 4-5 weeks old. However, their color detection ability continues to mature through the first 2-3 months of life.
With kittens, studies show their color vision develops in the first 8 weeks after birth. The cones in their retinas become increasingly sensitive to different wavelengths. Puppies also demonstrate immature color vision at birth that improves dramatically by 8 weeks of age.
It takes time for the visual cortex in the brain to learn how to process the signals from the cones. Young cats and dogs learn to identify colors through experiencing their environment during this developmental phase.
Do Cats and Dogs Perceive Color Differently?
Some evidence suggests cats and dogs may have slightly different color perception abilities. A study found that cats can distinguish between red and blue horizontal lines, but dogs cannot. Researchers theorize this may indicate dogs are less adept than cats at detecting the color red.
Another study trained cats and dogs to distinguish between blue and green light. While cats learned the task quickly, dogs struggled and were unable to reach the same level of accuracy as cats. The findings hint that cats may be more attuned to detecting subtle color differences.
However, experts say we need more studies directly comparing cat and dog color vision to fully understand if meaningful differences exist between the two species’ perception.
How a Limited Color Range Impacts Cats and Dogs
While dichromatic vision sounds limiting compared to human vision, it does not impact cats’ and dogs’ ability to function and thrive. In fact, it is believed that color vision gives them several advantages:
- Better night vision – Extra receptor cones for color detection can reduce visual sensitivity in low light. Many crepuscular and nocturnal species have limited color vision.
- Increased ability to detect movement – With fewer color receptor cones, more of their retinal ganglion cells can be devoted to spotting motion.
- Enhanced contrast perception – Their range of color vision may enable cats and dogs to better distinguish the borders between objects and detect contrasts in brightness.
So although cats and dogs don’t experience the same rainbow of colors that humans do, their vision is well adapted to their needs as predators and for signaling within their own species.
Do Cat and Dog Breeds See Color Differently?
Currently there is no evidence that ability to see color varies significantly across cat breeds. All domestic cats trace ancestry back to the Near Eastern wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica. Their shared genetics likely mean color perception is similar across breeds.
The situation may differ slightly among dog breeds. One study found differences in the number of retinal ganglion cells, used for processing images, across breeds. For example, greyhounds were found to have higher cell counts compared to miniatures poodles. If retinal anatomy varies between breeds, this raises the possibility of subtle differences in visual abilities too.
However, research has not directly studied if color vision itself differs between dog breeds. Most experts think that while eye structure varies in dogs, their fundamental color perception likely remains the same.
Signs Cats and Dogs Can Differentiate Colors
While we cannot fully experience how cats and dogs see the world, their behavior provides clues that they do perceive some colors:
- Vision testing – As mentioned, studies have successfully trained cats and dogs to distinguish between colored lights or objects, proving they can see colors.
- Color preferences – Some cats and dogs seem strongly attracted to or averse to objects of certain hues, suggesting they can discriminate color.
- Signaling with color – Brightly colored feathers, flowers, and butterflies seem to capture cats’ and dogs’ attention, indicating colors stand out to them.
- Reacting to TV – Cats and dogs clearly see content on televisions, likely indicating they can pick up on colored moving images.
Do Cats and Dogs Have Color Preferences?
Many cat and dog owners notice their pets seem particularly drawn to or avoidant of objects of certain colors. But research into color preferences in cats and dogs is still quite limited.
A study of Multicolored cards found cats spent more time attending to the blue card over others in the set. Another experiment showed cats learned to distinguish a blue door with food behind it faster than a red door. This suggests cats may favor blues or be able to detect them with greater acuity.
Studies of dogs have looked at color associations in different breeds. One study found black dogs were more reactive and stressed by the color yellow, while white dogs were more uneasy around blue. Another study linked the color red with aggression in certain breeds but calming effects in others.
More controlled research is needed to draw firm conclusions, since perceived color preferences may reflect other factors like object brightness or contrast. But current evidence hints cats and dogs do react differently to some colors over others.
|Breed||Potential Color Preference|
This table shows potential color preferences observed in some cat and dog breeds based on limited studies and anecdotal reports. More research is needed to confirm breed differences.
Using Colors Around Cats and Dogs
Some general tips when using color around cats and dogs:
- Use bright contrasting colors for toys and to mark walking areas or boundaries. This makes them easier to see.
- Avoid short wavelength colors like blue and violet for lighting. These can cause glare issues.
- Consider your pet’s potential color preferences when choosing bedding, toys, and accessories.
- Don’t assume your pet sees colors the same way you do. Rely more on contrasts and patterns.
Cats and dogs have more limited color vision so favor more high contrast visuals optimally designed for dichromatic perception. Their eyes are adapted wonderfully for their needs in nature.
Cats and dogs have dichromatic color vision, allowing them to see some colors in the blue, green, yellow and blue wavelength ranges. Their color perception world differs from human trichromatic vision and appears more muted to us. But their visual abilities are well tuned to their needs as predators and social animals. While cats may have slightly better color discrimination, both cats and dogs function extremely well with their more limited two cone system of color detection.
So although your furry friend does not see all the colors of the rainbow as vividly as you do, rest assured your cat or dog has excellent vision abilities, even if we cannot fully experience their world. The next time you play with a red laser pointer, know that while the dot may look brilliant red to you, your cat likely sees an intriguing moving gray point of light!