The Science Behind What Do Dogs See in The Dark Explained…


Comparing the sight of a human with a dog, we can make some assumptions about what they’re able to see. Though many have speculated about what a dog sees at night, nobody really knows for sure. This brings us to the question, “What do dogs see in the dark?”. One thing that’s generally agreed upon is that dogs are most sensitive to movement, which can help them avoid getting into trouble. By detecting movement, they can see things like shadows and edges.

However, what exactly do they see in the dark? For many dog owners who live in areas without street lighting, this is a big question. Some believe that dogs can’t really see anything at night. However, other sources say that dogs see in the dark, even when there isn’t street lighting.

But exactly how sensitive is their vision to light loss? Is it essentially the same as ours? These are some of the questions that have been debated by experts and dog owners for a long time. We will look at this topic in a detail below.

Also check out: Can Dogs See in The Dark?

Human And Dog Vision

It turns out dogs can actually see better in the dark compared to humans.  This might be because dogs have more retinal cells. A 2017 study showed that dogs’ eyes contain more rod cells compared to humans. Rod cells are light-sensitive cells in the retinas that help you see in the dark.

The reason why dogs have more rod cells than humans is that they evolved to hunt at night. Another reason why dogs can see well in the dark is thanks to the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light that enters the eye back into it. This is what makes eyes glow when you shine a flashlight on them in the dark. The tapetum lucidum helps a dog perceive visual cues, even when light is dim.

However, dogs are no match for cats when it comes to seeing in the dark. A professor of comparative ophthalmology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Paul Miller estimates that a dog can see in light five times dimmer than what the human eye needs. (cats need about one-sixth of the light humans need to see in darkness.)

What They Can See

Though dogs see better in the dark, they need a certain amount of light before they can see distinct images. Most dogs can only make out shapes and outlines of objects when there’s little to no light at night. However, some experts say that dogs can make out some details even in the darkest conditions. In addition, experts also agree that on a clear night, dogs do have a sharp sense of vision under the moonlight.

Now that we know dogs can see much better in dark compared to humans, what about their vision in pitch black conditions? Dogs are just as clueless as humans when it comes to orienting themselves with vision alone in pitch-black darkness. This is precisely why they seem so confused when in the dark in new places. The only difference is that dogs are more sensitive to movement compared to humans. Also, dogs can rely on their keen senses of smell and sound to orient themselves a little better in the dark.

You might also be interested in How Do Dogs See In The Dark?


So, dogs really do see in the dark. However, there’s still a lot we don’t know about their vision. What we know for sure is that dogs can make shapes and outlines of objects even when there is little to no light. Your furry friend can also use their keen sense of smell to orient themselves better in pitch-black conditions.

Thank you for reading the article.

Explore more about your dog’s vision from our other dog vision-related articles. 

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