Cats and dogs see color differently than humans and here’s why

by savannah

For years, it’s been assumed that cats and dogs are colorblind. Studies have been done to try to both prove and debunk this assumption, but nothing definitively has ever been decided about whether our furry friends can actually see color. All we know is that cats and dogs don’t see color as vibrantly as humans, and there are several reasons why.

It’s all in the eyes

Cats and dogs have very different eyes than humans. While humans have several L-cones in their eyes, cats and dogs both lack them.

What they do have, however, are plenty of rods. Rods allow them to see in low-light conditions and even in the dark, which gives them the ability to distinguish objects at night. Humans don’t have this ability and often stumble in the dark.

What the research shows

Several studies have been done to try to determine whether or not cats and dogs can see color. One study, performed in 1915 by two scientists at the University of Colorado, followed 9 cats over the course of 18 months to see how they responded to a colored jar and a gray jar.

When a cat touched the gray jar, they weren’t rewarded with anything. When they touched the colored jar, they were rewarded with a fish. After 100,000 tries, the results were in and showed that cats chose each jar 50% of the time, leading researchers to determine that cats cannot see color.

Neurologists weren’t satisfied with this observation so they decided to do a follow-up study but this time hooked cats up to electrodes and showed them several different colors. Surprisingly, the cats responded to color, debunking the original study’s findings and determining that cats aren’t actually colorblind.

After the electrode study was performed, the jar study was repeated in the 1960s. That study backed up the neurologists’ findings and showed that cats can see colors, it just takes them awhile to catch on.

Dogs have trouble distinguishing between colors

The jar study was also performed on dogs, but with a much better success rate. This may be due to the fact that dogs are more willing participants than cats, but either way, the study found that dogs can distinguish between black and white and colored objects.

Dogs still lack L-cones in their eyes, however, meaning they still have difficulty telling close colors like orange and red apart. The colors they see are also muted and less vibrant than the colors humans see.

Cats and dogs overall have better vision than humans

Despite being partially colorblind, cats and dogs still have amazing vision capabilities. Since their eyes are full of rods, they can see in low-light and even pitch black conditions. This allows them to stalk prey, like rodents, easily at night.

Dogs, in particular, can detect objects in motion much faster than humans can. Objects that are in motion can be seen twice as better by dogs than by humans. On the contrary, dogs have difficulty distinguishing motionless objects, partially due to the fact that they have trouble telling colors apart.

Protein is important for a cat’s vision

The diet a cat consumes is important for many reasons- one of which is their vision. Cats need a diet rich in protein and the nutrient taurine, which is found in muscle. Without it, cats can go blind. They also need a lot of calcium.

Since their diet is rich in protein, a cat’s feces are often desirable for other animals, like dogs, to consume. Their urine is also ultra-concentrated. Cats can survive on very little water and really only need a diet rich in protein- something they likely inherited from their ancestors who were thought to live in the desert.

Final thoughts

Although cats and dogs can see color, they have difficulty distinguishing between similar colors like orange and red. Because of this fact, they are considered partially colorblind.

Despite their partial colorblindness, cats and dogs both have excellent vision overall and can often see things humans can’t see, even in the most challenging conditions. That’s what makes them such incredible predators and protectors and a great asset to humans.

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