Why Do My Dog’s Eyes Glow in the Dark?

March 27, 2013

By Tamara McRill

Ever spot a pair of demonically glowing green or red eyes in the dark, only to realize they belong to your cute and cuddly dog? What really gets to me is when I’m the one outside and I see the floating bright orbs peering out my window. You know, it’s that split second where you’re torn between wanting to turn and run or bust in to save your pets from…whatever “It” is.

But of course, “It” is your dog’s (or even cat’s) eyes glowing in the dark. It turns out there is even a very scientific – and reassuring – reason their eyes shine so eerily in the darkness.

Tapetum Lucidum

No, that’s not the starting phrase of an exorcism, although it is Latin. It means “bright tapestry.” The words are also the scientific term for the light-reflecting surface between a dog’s optic nerve and retina.

The tapetum lucidum is what makes dog’s eyes react to light exposure differently than human eyes, essentially reflecting the light back through their eyes like a mirror. The rods and cones make use of the multiplied light to see better in the dark. Dogs and other animals with the structure, like cats and deer, can use very low levels of light to see.

Different Colors

In addition to superior night vision, this reflected light is also what produces eyeshine in dogs…that surreal colored glow that comes out in their eyes at night. What I find fascinating is that not every dog’s eyeshine is the same color.

My chocolate lab, Wuppy, has brown eyes that have a predominant phosphorus green eyeshine. One of our mixed breed dogs, Cody, has one blue eye and one brown eye. His eyes glow a dark red when hit with light in the dark, although the blue eye is more intense.

The colors of a dog’s eyeshine aren’t limited to red and green, either. They can be all shades of blue, orange, yellow, turquoise or even violet. The specific color reflected depends on the amount of zinc or riboflavin in the eye cells.

Red glowing eyes at night are the result of blood vessels reflecting light. This is common with white dogs who have blue eyes.

Some dog breeds are known for certain eyeshine color, although the tendency isn’t a guarantee that’s the color they’ll have. Yellow labs tend to have a light yellow shine, and black labs a deep yellow or green. Miniature Schnauzers are known for turquoise glow.

Outside Influences on Color

The eyeshine color can also depend on other factors, such as the kind of light being shined in a dog’s eyes. Headlights, halogen lights, flashlights and lights with colored filters may all produce a different glow in the eyes of the same dog. The intensity of the light is also a factor, as is the distance between the light source and the dog, and where you are standing in relation to the dog’s location.

I have photos of Wuppy where his eyes glow green. But in other photos, all taken during the same nighttime romp, the colors range from red and orange, to yellow.

You can often tell eyeshine color by taking a photo of your dog with the flash on, with them looking up at you. Just try not to get them right in the eye with the flash. If your dog is younger than 16 weeks, their tapetum will probably be blue or violet. The color of their glow may change as they get older.

What color do your pet’s eyes glow in the dark?

Photos by Tamara McRill

Read more articles by Tamara McRill

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Pet Foods.

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  1. Nash and kilo says:

    My kilo angel has a blue and one brown eye that glow the most violent looking red at night under light exposure. Yet she is the most huge and fluffy harmless domestic house pet. I wish I could share a photo of her finding her deep under the dark cabin after dark playing cat and mouse to get her to come inside. Squirl master made me crawl under there to get her, The most frightening under dim light… she loves treats

  2. Ryon says:

    My dog’s eyes glow orange and purple at an even 50/50 ratio, is that common?

  3. Hello,
    I have recently got Chance! he’s my Shih-tzu puppy and I love him very much. He is 6 month’s old. What strikes me about him and actually really concerns me, hint, the reason I was reading this article: He’s eyes have been charged up red shiny since he was born. I believe his natural eye color may be some kind of red brown but any sort of light even minimal indoor will make his eyes look what you your article describe. A friend of mine even told me; Why is your dog’s eyes always red. What’s going on? Is he going to be bling?:(

  4. Kathy says:

    one of my dogs eyes glow in pics!!

  5. Ethan says:

    My dog has one green and one purple when a light is shined in his eyes.

  6. One of my dogs, Fiona, a long-haired Chihuahua, who has dark chocolate brown eyes,her eyes barely glow green. And my other dog, Hunter, a ChiWeenie, who has milk chocolate eyes, his eyes glow a brilliant green. And my third dog, Skylar, a Rat Terrier, who has light blue/grey eyes, her eyes glow red… yes, she is white in color also. Thanks for the info!!

  7. Grace says:

    I have a Bernese Mountain Dog.
    I thought he was possessed!
    No matter day night or picture taking his eyes always are glowing

  8. Mia says:

    Bright Ocean blue

  9. Kim M says:

    Last comment typo…’eyes glowed* not flowed

  10. Kim M says:

    Very interesting, and informative article! I took a picture of my Golden Retriever last night from a window and his eyes flowed a bright yellow/gold! I had to find out what part of the eye causes this. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Jennifer says:

    I my husky has a very unusual eyeshine, his right eye is red and his left eye is green. Is this uncommon? What causes a dog to have two different eyeshine colors?

    1. Rachel says:

      Hey maybe it’s a husky thing, one of my huskies has a blue eye and a golden eye. (Actual eye color) and hers glow red(blue) and green(gold)

    2. Kawaya says:

      Both of my Weimaraners will shine different colors. They have the greenish hazel eyes and will glow red or green or both, often swapping colors. Although I think it is their intent, as red is usually when they are misbehaving and green is when they are good.

  12. I have four dogs. A pit bull and 3 white valley bulldogs. The momma,pappa, and pup ( who's name is actually “puppy” lol) anyway puppy's eyes always glow one bright blue and the other bright green…… Should I be worried???

    1. Isiris says:

      Carl Stagg. Reread the article. It answers your question.

    2. Blevins says:

      No. Nothing to worry about. My dog has a blue eye and a brown eye. The blue reflects red and the brown reflects green. I always wondered if he felt like he was wearing a set of 3-D glasses.

  13. My Australian shepherd are bright orange and my Australian Kelpie's (she has blue eyes) are bright red. I had a blue eyed cat whose eyes always looked red when he looked at lights – I called Luci for Lucifur. lol.

  14. HPuyaoan says:

    My Boxer mix has a green eyeshine, but my white purebred Boxer has a blue eyeshine. I thought something was wrong with my white Boxer, but I guess not? So this is normal?

    1. marie pope says:

      I have a black cockerspainal mix with beagle, red eyes at night.

  15. I love those cute demonic babies! 🙂

  16. Unknown says:

    I prefer to believe they are demonically possessed

  17. The first paragraph was too funny, I’ve been there. Hey, I scare easily lol. Interesting, I never knew why they glowed!

  18. Cool. I knew about the light-reflecting surface, but I didn’t know about the different colors and how that comes about. Cool lesson. Thanks.

  19. Loving Max says:

    Hummm….I’ll have to look now but I think an amber color – nice post!