Can Dogs See in the Dark? Do Dogs Have Night Vision?


can dogs see in the dark

Humans and dogs don’t see colors the same. Their fields of view are different and how sharply and vividly they see objects also vary. However, the big question is, “Can dogs see in the dark?”

Dogs can see in the dark – certainly much better than humans do. The few anatomical benefits dogs have over humans help them see things brighter at night. Though not as good as cats and other felines, a dog’s nighttime vision is very close to a cat’s vision in the dark than one would imagine.

dog glasses computer

Keep reading to learn more about how well dogs see in dark or low-light environments, and also why their eyes glow when artificial light hits their eyeballs, besides other related information.

Can Dogs See in the Dark? 

Dogs can certainly see in the dark, provided it’s not pitch black. In indoor semi-darkness or twilight, dogs can see things better than what the human eye could discern.

There is no real scale or scientific parameter that measures how well dogs can see during dusk, however. As of now, it’s safe to deduce that a dog’s nighttime vision is much better than humans but not as great as those of cats. Cats can see six times better than humans during dim lighting conditions. A dog, on the other hand, could see five times more light than humans in dark scenarios.

Though the nighttime vision of dogs is pretty much standard across the board, certain breeds may have an edge over others based on their nourishment and grooming.

Do Dogs Have Night Vision? 

Dogs do have night vision or they can see things much better at night compared to humans, thanks to the sight receptors in their eyes that do a great job of distinguishing between darkness and daylight. 

As mentioned above, they have certain unique eye anatomy advantages, which are:

  • The bigger pupil lets in increased amount of light into the eye.
  • The center part of the eye retina has more rods (light-sensitive cells) than humans.
  • The light-sensitive elements in the retina engage with lower light levels.
  • The lens in a dog’s eyes is located nearer to the retina, which brightens up the picture on the retina.

Adding to this special nighttime visibility is the increased area of vision. Most canine breeds have approximately 250 degrees of vision field, which is 60 degrees more than the 190 degrees humans benefit from.

dog eyes up close

The Composition of a Dog’s Eye 

To understand how dogs manage to see better at night than humans, it’s important to understand how a canine’s eyes are naturally put together. The eye of a dog is made of a pupil, cornea, retina, and lens like humans. The retina contains all the important photoreceptor cells, which consist of rods and cones.

Rods help with low-light visibility, and this is where the eyes of a dog markedly differentiate from human eyes. Dogs have more of this photoreceptor cell in their eyes than humans. Humans, on the other hand, see color better due to an extra cone in their eyes. Found in the retina of the eye, cones are yet another kind of photoreceptor cells that offer color-infused vision.

The rod-dominant retina of the dog collects all the light and makes maximum use of it using a slender tissue called tapetum lucidum. Besides letting in more light, rods are motion-sensitive too, letting canines to detect slight movements and sense a prey or stranger quickly. This ability comes in handy when the dog is on guard duty or hunting at night.

Situated in the rear of the eye, tapetum is a mirror-like structure reflecting light. In other words, it provides the retina an additional opportunity to register the light that entered the eye. Tapetum, however, also disperses some light, causing degradation in vision accuracy. Also, tapetum causes dogs’ eyes to glow green, blue, or red in the dark.

A Dog’s Strong Nighttime Vision is Rooted in Its Evolution 

To understand how dogs manage to see pretty well in the dark, it’s imperative to learn how they’ve come along the centuries. Dogs are natural predators. Though many dogs are now housed in human abodes as pets and spend a lot of time outdoors during the day, dogs historically are nocturnal hunters. They, in fact, evolved from a wild canine species that were predominantly crepuscular. Crepuscular animals are active primarily at night.

They could naturally spot movements in low or dim light situations to track and trap their prey for dinner or breakfast. In fact, if you do not try to put your dog to sleep at night, you would invariably find your pet canine active until the wee hours. The fact that your dog has a bigger pupil, an enhanced field of vision, and more light-sensitive cells also has its roots in the four-legged animal’s origin and evolution.

dog in car lights

How Well Do Dogs See in Pitch Black Conditions? 

It is no secret that dogs see better than humans in the dark. However, that doesn’t mean dogs can see just fine even in extremely dark scenarios. Dogs do not have an integrated torchlight in their eyes that lets them magically see things even when all lights are out. 

Canines make good use of or amplify any available light. When there’s just no light, their eyes have no light to take in and refract. In other words, a dog’s nighttime vision is close to how humans see when it’s completely dark.

However, dogs do not feel blinded all of a sudden. They are able to make their way through the dark relatively well as they can memorize things or have a mental image of the place, just like humans can. But if it’s a new place altogether and it is completely dark, dogs would then find it extremely challenging to navigate the space.

Some dogs may bark incessantly when left all by themselves in extremely dark areas. Do not mistake the barking for an imaginary ghost that suddenly caught the attention of your pet. The hysteria is usually due to the dog’s anxiety and fear. Dogs see well in the dark, but most do not fancy the same. Some dogs, however, would do just fine and may not lash out.

Nighttime Vision and Aging 

Like human eyes, your canine’s eyes will begin to degrade with age. The several lenses that constitute the dog’s eyes would start to wear out as the animal gets older. When your dog is about 7 years old, its ability to see and detect things during the dark would diminish. And with increasing age, the field of vision would also deteriorate.

In fact, there would come a time when your dog would have lost most of its vision and will be navigating through your place using just its memory. And it’s not just vision, your dog’s eyes also start glowing in a different color with age. In other words, if your dog’s eyes are not glowing green or in the color they used to when they were younger, it’s a tell-tale sign that age is catching up with the eyes.

You will, therefore, have to lend more than just a helping hand to your canine friend – particularly when your dog is looking for toys that aren’t in their usual places. Though you can prevent aging and the failing eye of your dog, you can certainly postpone the occurrence. 

Here are a few things that would help keep your pet dog’s vision intact for the longest possible time:

Nutrition 

Your dog requires a balanced diet to keep its eyes in the best shape. Therefore, make sure you provide your pet its daily dose of beta carotene, antioxidants, and several vitamins. Zinc, selenium, and magnesium are other nutrients essential for healthy eyes.

Exercise 

Through exercise, your dog would have a natural and constant supply of oxygen traveling to its vital organs, including its eyes. Your dog’s eyes may have toxin exposure. The presence of oxygen in the eyes would help eliminate those toxins. 

To ensure it get its proper share of physical activity and oxygen, you need not resort to a rigorous exercise routine. A walk in the park each day for 20 minutes should be more than enough.

Eye Massage 

If you are extremely particular about keeping your dog’s eyes in top condition, you may have to treat your pet to some relaxing eye massages. A massage is good for your pet’s eye health as it improves blood flow in the area. You may give the massage a few times a week. Once your dog gets used to the exercise, you may do it every day.

dog massage with cucumbers

Begin the massage near the inner periphery of the eyes. Keep massaging in a circular motion and slowly progress toward the outer edges of the eyes. Your dog may not be receptive to the massage initially. But if you persist and stay patient, it should be smooth sailing thereafter. 

Conclusion 

Keep in mind a healthy dog with a solid vision will never bump into the door at night. If you’ve owned and raised several pet dogs over the years, you should probably already be knowing this. But you may not have known the reasons why canines see things so much brighter in the dark than humans. Hopefully, you now know all the science there is behind your pet’s impressive night time vision. 

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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