We’re not exaggerating – dogs’ eyes are a marvel of engineering. Their eyes allow them to see the way in the incredible way they do. Puppy eyes are much like our own eyes. They have a lot of components, although they work differently. In fact, in some aspects, dogs’ eyes are far superior to ours; they have a broader field of vision and can detect movement far better.
In this article, we’ll keep your eyes peeled as we take a look at the anatomy of dogs’ eyes. We’ll go over how puppy eyes work, and answer all kinds of questions like how can dogs see in the dark, can dogs see colour, can dogs watch TV, and what colours dogs see best. We bet you’re dying to know.
Check out the Zigzag puppy training app for more information on your puppy’s development, and learn much more about how they see the world. We’ve also got a team of top-class dog trainers and behaviourists to answer your questions. They’ll keep a (human) eye on you throughout your journey through puppyhood too.
What is the anatomy of dogs’ eyes?
Dog eyes are made up of a cornea, iris, pupil, lens, retina, and sclera. They also have an upper and lower eyelid and a third eyelid on the outside of the eye for protection. Rods and cones are how images and light are processed and important for vision.
Let’s take a closer look at how each of these works.
The transparent dome-like structure that covers the front of the eye. It bends light as it enters the eye.
This is the coloured part of a dog’s eye. It’s the bit that makes them beautiful, essentially. It can be yellow, brown, blue or even white, which expands and contracts in low light or bright light.
According to light intensity, the pupil opens and closes.
The lens focuses light into the retina
This transforms light signals into the optic nerve and off into the brain.
This is the white part of the eye that surrounds the iris.
Dogs have three eyelids: an upper, a lower and then a third eyelid. They mainly serve to protect the eye, the third eyelid sweeping back and forth to spread tear film and keep the eye moisturised.
Rods and Cones
There are photoreceptors found in the retina, these process light signals. Cones allow dogs to see colours, while rods allow them to see shapes.
How do puppy eyes work?
Puppies are born with their eyelids closed because their eyes are not fully developed. It’s actually quite endearing. Because their eyes are still developing for the first two weeks, their eyelids remain closed to protect them. Puppy eyes open around 14 days and usually one at a time.
Puppies do quite alright without their eyes being open at the start actually, they don’t need their vision much as newborns. All they need is to find their mother for milk, and they mainly rely on their sense of smell for this. When they first open their eyes, their vision will be poor, and their eyes will look grey or blueish and a little milky. As the weeks go by, their eyesight develops more, and they’ll start seeing more clearly and start recognising shapes better. Puppy eyes reach full development at around 8 weeks of age.
Once developed, their eyes will work the same way as dogs’ eyes do. Light goes into the eye through the cornea, and is focused onto the lens by the pupil at the centre of the iris. The lens bounces the light around, and then focuses light onto the retina, which sends a signal through the optic nerve into the brain.
But it’s really the rods and cones who control how puppies see. Rods are light-sensitive and are used for shape and motion perception; dogs have far more rods than humans do. Cones are what control colour perception, and are the responsible ones for the reputation of dogs being colourblind, as they only have around 20% of the cones that humans do.
But in reality, puppies are no different in that the spectrum of colour they see is different to that of a human. Instead of seeing a full array of colours, they see things in a yellow-blue spectrum. Despite not being able to see a full spectrum of colour, puppy eyes are much more sensitive than ours at night, and they also have an excellent movement-activated vision. This is an evolutionary characteristic that would have been extremely useful for hunting and they retained it after domestication.
Can dogs see in the dark?
Well…kinda! Our dogs’ wild ancestors were crepuscular, meaning that they hunted at dawn and dusk. Dogs, as we know them today, have kept this interesting talent. Their ability to see in the dark is made possible due to a reflective system called the tapetum lucidum (easily confused with a Harry Potter spell), which sits behind the retina and helps to enhance visual sensitivity at low light levels.
Dogs have light-sensitive rods in their eyes, which help them detect movement and light in low-light conditions. However, when it’s pitch black dogs will struggle to see as well as us, and will rely on their other powerful senses like their sense of smell to move around.
Can dogs see colour?
Dogs see in certain colours, but not all. While humans see the entire colour spectrum in trichromatic vision, dogs have a dichromatic vision and only see blue/yellow, plus shades of grey and brown. This is because we have three types of cones in our eyes, and dogs only have two.
Dogs also only have around 20% of the cones that humans do, meaning that the colours they do see are more muted, whereas humans see the world in more vivid and bright colours.
What colours do dogs see best?
Dogs have dichromatic vision, which means that their eyes can best see the colours yellow and blue, along with combinations of the two. Blue, blue-green, and violet are all different shades of blue to a dog, and shades of red and green are likely to appear as browns and grayscale.
This is the same across all breeds. They all have the same colour vision, although different breeds, due to their skull shape and eye position, will have better eyesight in terms of depth perception than others.
This may help you figure out what colour toys to buy your dog, blue and yellow are definitely best as they’ll be able to find them and see them easily.
How to care for my dog’s eyes?
Puppy eyes should be cleaned as part of a regular grooming routine, and the sooner you start, the better. You want them to get used to grooming when they’re young so you don’t face any hiccups when they’re older. Check your dog’s eyes daily, and wipe away any dirt or debris with a clean cotton pad.
Some dogs will wake up with weird eye snot. Don’t rub their actual eyeballs, by the way! Just wipe away any dirt around them and on the corner, where it tends to accumulate.
You shouldn’t need to use any harsh chemicals or specific cleaners for this, just cooled boiled water on a cotton pad is all you need to clean the eyes fully. If your dog’s eyes are runny, inflamed or bloodshot, you should see a vet instead of diagnosing them at home with eye drops. Dogs’ eyes are precious, so it’s worth taking care of them!
Different breeds of dogs, such as Pugs and French Bulldogs, will likely need more care and attention paid to their eyes. Due to their flat faces, they have a higher risk of gunk getting in, because their eyes stick out more. They also have a lot of skin around their eyes, which can lead to eye problems like cherry eye, and also are more prone to ulcers. We love our little aliens, and keeping an eye will help make sure they actually keep their eyes. Hmm…too dark?
We hope this has given you a good overview of how dogs and puppies see the world. We’ve covered how dogs see best in blue and yellow, and how you should use those colours for any toys you choose to treat them with. We’re sure you’re well-equipped to take care of your dog’s eyes well, but your vet will always be happy to help you if you notice any redness or soreness in the eye.
Now that you’re here, why not read our guide all about how to brush your puppy’s teeth? You’ll need to know what toothbrush and toothpaste to get for their dashing smile too, so be sure to check it out.
Download the Zigzag app, and find much more helpful information on how to take care of your puppy, including grooming, and that step-by-step training programme you’ve been looking for all this time. We even have breed-specific training guides to give your puppy the best start and a team of professional trainers and behaviourists on hand to talk to, whenever you run into some trouble.