Imagine this: It’s the middle of the night. You wake up from a sound slumber with the urge to pee. So, you swing your legs to the side of the bed, get up, and shuffle off to the restroom. On your way, you move slowly and put your hands out to feel for any approaching walls or furniture. But “THUD” … you bump into something. Does that sound familiar?
Now, here’s another question: Has your dog ever done the same thing? Chances are, the answer is “nope”. So, it’s no wonder many of us have questioned: Can dogs see in the dark?
Short Answer: Dogs don’t have superpower “night vision”, but they do see better in low-light situations than humans do. Let’s take a closer look at why!
Canine Eye Anatomy
The canine eye works very similarly to the human eye. Dogs have:
Eyelids: Along with upper and lower lids — like us humans have — dogs also have a third eyelid. This extra eyelid isn’t easily seen in most breeds.
Cornea: The outer, clear part of the eye that we can all see.
Iris: The colored part of the eye.
Pupil: The black center of the eye, which expands and contracts depending on the amount of light that’s entering the eye. When in the dark, the pupil grows bigger to let in more light. When in the light, the pupil shrinks to let in less light.
Lens: The lens sits behind the iris and is responsible for focusing.
Retina: The retina turns light into signals for the brain to interpret as objects. Inside the retina are rod cells, cone cells, and tapetum lucidum.
Rods: Rods are photoreceptor cells found concentrated at the outer edges of the retina. They’re responsible for vision in low light conditions. Dogs can see better in low light situations because they have more rods than we do!
Cones: On the flipside, cone cells are responsible for vision in bright light situations. They also provide color vision. The human eye has three different kinds of cones that respond to color. Together, they allow us to see the full spectrum of the rainbow. Just like people, dog eyes also have cones. The difference? They have fewer cones and only two types. Experts say this suggests dogs can see some colors, but they aren’t as vibrant or intense as we see them.
Tapetum lucidum: Lying directly behind the retina is a layer of mirror-like reflective cells called Tapetum lucidum. These cells bounce light toward the retina, which boosts the amount of light available to the photoreceptors. Tapetum lucidum is another reason why dogs can see better in dim lighting. These cells are also what makes your dog’s eyes glow in certain situations.
A Look At How Dog Eyes Process Light
Like with human eyes, light enters through your dog’s cornea and then the pupil. The light then passes through your dog’s eye lens and hits the retina. As I mentioned above, the biggest difference between the human eye and a dog’s eye are the rods and cones. A dog’s retina is rod-dominant (allowing them to see better in dim light than we do), while our eyes are cone-dominant (allowing us to see colors more vividly than dogs do).
Along with more rods, let’s not forget about those tapetum lucidum cells I mentioned above. Dogs have a reflective tissue beneath their retina called the tapetum lucidum which helps them to use less light more efficiently than we do.
What This All Means: Dogs still don’t see in the pitch black. But they can see better in dim light and very low light than we can. During the night, dogs use their eyes, whiskers (AKA their feelers), and amazing sense of smell to help them move around.