Ask My Vet: Can dogs only see in black and white?

Ask My Vet is a series I am starting based on questions I have—and maybe you do, too—about dogs. Katniss’ veterinarian, Dr. Katharine Kennedy of Arbor Animal Clinic here in Austin, provides answers and expertise as a part of this new series. According to AAC’s website, Kennedy “completed her undergraduate studies at Warren Wilson College near Asheville, North Carolina, where she worked on the college farm raising antibiotic- and hormone-free livestock. She graduated from Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine in 2011 and worked in an urgent care facility in San Antonio before joining AAC.” Kennedy is affiliated with the Capital Area Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Medical Association and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association.

Since she’s such a great vet and so willing to contribute to my blog, I’ll forgive her for being an Aggie.

Question: Can my dog see colors?

Dr. K: “The structure of a dog eye is very similar to a human eye. The retina is the part of the eye that detects light and converts it in to an electrical signal that our brain interprets. There are two types of cells in the retina; rods and cones. Rods are in charge of seeing in low light and do not have much color differentiation; think shades of grey for these cells. Cones help us see in bright light and differentiate colors. People have three types of cones: red, green and blue. Dogs only have two types of cones: blue-violet and yellow-green.

“We think dogs interpret orange and red as yellow. Dogs cannot differentiate green, yellow, red or orange. They also can’t differentiate blue-green from grey. They can distinguish more shades of grey than people. The closest human comparison we have to dog vision is a person with red-green color blindness.

Look, it’s Katniss’ reflective tapetum! That, or she’s possessed.

“Dogs are also more sensitive to light than humans. … Dogs and cats also have a reflective layer on the back of their eye called the reflective tapetum.

“We have also documented that dogs can be near- or far-sighted, and there may some breed predilections for this. Not [to pick] on Katniss, but some German shepherds have been noted to be near-sighted. Usually this isn’t an issue for their daily life unless they are working dogs like search-and-rescue dogs or military working dogs.”

It looks like Katniss may not only be possibly near-sighted, but she also only sees yellow, blue and shades of gray—but more shades of gray than I do. No wonder she was so interested in the “50 Shades of Gray” movie! We wouldn’t let her see it because of the mature content. Heck, I wasn’t even allowed to watch it, much less an impressionable Katniss.

After all she’s only about 1 1/2—or age 11 or so in dog years—or is she? Find out about dog years in the next installment of Ask My Vet.

Kennedy cannot provide medical recommendations to individuals or groups that are not established clients with a current client-patient relationship. She will also not share personal information of clients with though she may discuss general medical details not associated with specific individuals.
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