Can Dogs See Black Light?

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Introduction

You've probably been in a situation where you've been wowed by a blacklight, also known as an ultraviolet light. It's cool, right? Everything looks neon and purple, and the whites on your shirt or your shoes glow brighter than you've ever seen. It's a neat experience, and like most neat experiences we go through, we often want to include our dogs - but, is it worth it? Can dogs see in ultraviolet or blacklight?

Studies suggest that yes, your pup can see those blacklight affects that you're seeing, and the fun part? He or she doesn't need a special bulb or glasses to do it. 
Blacklight gives off a certain ultraviolet light (UV light) that makes certain objects glow in the dark or appear fluorescent, and studies suggest that your dog can pick up on these UV rays even when there's no UV lightbulb making it appear to your human eyes. 

Want to know more about these studies? Do you want a better idea of how to tell when your dog might be picking up on these signs? Read on to get a better idea of when your dog might be picking up on UV lights. 

Signs Your Dog Is Picking Up on Ultraviolet Light

Let's dive a little deeper into our explanation. You know how there are certain things that can only be seen under UV or blacklights? Whether it's a t-shirt, a toy, or something branded toward being "only visible under blacklight," your dog can see it without a blacklight. 

Light is made up of a spectrum of colors with certain ranges that are only viewable by human eyes, but many animals, dogs included, can see past those ranges and have UV-vision. It's not always easy to tell when your dog might be seeing UV light, though. Typically, dog owners and researchers report that your dog could be seeing in ultraviolet when they're distracted or focused on something that doesn't seem to be there.

You know what we mean - if you've ever seen your dog bark or chase after something that isn't there, this could very well be due to the fact that he or she is seeing in ultraviolet. Other signs, like bizarre antics, snapping at invisible flies, and staring off into the distance at what seems like nothing could be your dog seeing through ultraviolet lenses. 

Body Language

Here are a few common body language cues that might suggest your dog is seeing in UV light:
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Twitching whiskers
  • Lips pushed forward
  • Stalking
  • Pupils dilated
  • Ears up
  • Whale eye

Other Signs

There are other signs to look out for, too, including:
  • Staring into the distance
  • Snapping or biting at imaginary objects
  • Chasing nothing
  • Unwarranted aggression
  • Distraction

The History of Animal UV Sensitivity

While we can't be absolutely certain as to why animals have a particular sensitivity to UV light, hypotheses have been placed based on evolution. It's possible that dogs are able to see in the UV spectrum because they evolved from nocturnal hunters who may have maintained their ability to see ultraviolet light because they needed that sensitivity when there was little light around. 

The idea is that animals who function in the daylight, like us humans, rely more on our visual acuity to deal with our world, so we have lenses that screen out the ultraviolet rays to protect our retinas and maintain our ability to see fine visual details. 

With dogs, the ultraviolet abilities make their acuity a little less than perfect. The light they are able to pick up on scatters as it enters their eyes, degrading the image and making it blurry, so the details are less-than-perfect.

Science of Dogs Seeing Blacklight

The lens of the human eye is designed to block out ultraviolet light for protection, but animals, with their UV-transparent lenses, are able to allow ultraviolet light to reach into their retina, convert into nerve signals, and then travel in their brains. Here, their visual systems can receive and decode them as well. 

Humans who have had their eye lens removed (typically for things like cataract surgery) are able to absorb ultraviolet light, too. Human eyes are designed to block out UV light because it can damage the retina just as it can damage skin over time, but it's also possible our eyes block out UV to improve visual acuity.

Training Your Dog to Use Their UV Vision

As we said before, your dog has super sensitive eyes that can pick up on certain UV rays that you simply cannot. Research thinks that because dogs evolved from nocturnal ancestors who hunted primarily at night when light was low, your pooch has maintained certain functions. 

While this is a tough concept to make concrete (because we simply can't ask dogs what they see and what they don't) it's possible that you could train your dog to capitalize on their UV-sight abilities. How, you ask?

First, it's possible to work with a behaviorist to get a better idea of how your dog's skills could come in handy. If you're an avid hunter who appreciates hunting at night, consider working with a trainer to help you teach your dog how to use their special eyes to hunt at night. 

Make sure your dog is well-versed in normal obedience training, understands that you're the alpha dog, and that he's been trained as a hunting dog too before you take him or her out at night for a hunt where you can utilize his or her UV-sensitive eyes.

How to React if Your Dog has Special UV Sensitivity:

  • Don't panic about your dog barking or chasing after things that aren't there.
  • Consider working with a behaviorist to either curb your dog's behaviors or perfect them for training purposes.
  • Discuss your dog's actions with your vet.
  • Be sensitive to what your dog is seeing, even if you can't see it.