Camera Flash Eyes – If Your Dog’s Eyes Don’t Glow, What Could it Mean?

Dog's eyes reflecting in the usual way to camera flash

Dog’s eyes reflecting in the usual way to camera flash

The other day I took pictures of these two Labradors using my flash. The pale dog’s eyes reflected brightly as one might expect but the other dog’s eyes merely glowed a dull red, and it reminded me of something I had once heard – that if his eyes didn’t reflect brightly, the dog may not have such good night vision. I looked into it a bit further.

The colour of the reflection comes from a layer of tissue at the back of the eye (the choroid) that contains blood vessels, brown pigment cells, and, in most dogs, a shiny cell layer (the tapetum). This tapetum may be yellow, green, blue, orange, or variations in between those colors and accounts for the brightness of a dog’s eye reflection.

Eyes glowing red with camera flash

Eyes glowing red with camera flash

Some dogs have very small tapeta or none at all so they show a very dull reflection or none at all (like this chocolate Labrador). Certain dogs, especially dogs with liver or orange-brown coat colour or with blue irises, have very little pigment in the back of the eye and the blood vessels that would normally be hidden by this pigment are visible and make the reflection glow bright red.

The tapetum is believed to be a nocturnal adaptation by increasing stimulation of the photosensitive cells of the retina – allowing a sort of double exposure.

The tapetum is absent in humans.

Science Daily says of dogs’ eyes compared to human eyes: ‘The canine’s biggest advantage is called the tapetum. This mirror-like structure in the back of the eye reflects light, giving the retina a second chance to register light that has entered the eye.

Here is what Melvin Pena has to say of dogs and night vision: ‘ A rough but poetic translation from Latin for “tapetum lucidum” is the “tapestry of light.” As the retinas draw in whatever light is available to dog eyes, and the rods process them as forms and movement, the tapetum lucidum reflects back whatever is left over for the dog to make use of again. Effectively, dogs can see in the dark because any available light is used twice, once coming in and again reflected back out’.

So here, put simply, is what could be happening in the Labrador’s case (scientifically there is a great deal more to the subject!):

Because this dog’s eyes appear a dull red they lack tapeta lucida and the result is the typical ‘red-eye’ seen in humans due to the appearance of the blood vessels of choroid and the underlying the cornea. Any available light is used just the once – coming in, and not reflected back out again as is the case with the majority of dogs.

For this reason, I conclude that what I had heard in the past about dogs not having such good night vision whose eyes don’t reflect a flash brightly, is true.

Here is my story of these two lovely dogs and the other two dogs they live with.



About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site:
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3 Responses to Camera Flash Eyes – If Your Dog’s Eyes Don’t Glow, What Could it Mean?

  1. Leda Van Stedum says:

    Thank you! This is so enlightening (honestly, no pun intended.) I have observed the certain colors, but did not know the cause. The two dogs who recently both died and left me broken, reflected green. I want to know more….!


  2. Chrissie Hurt says:

    I have two dogs, a utonagan (husky / malamute cross) whose eyes shine brightly a silvery electric blue at night when a torch is shone on him, the other dog a husky with soft brown eyes do not reflect any light at all at night when a torch is shone on him – literally none at all – its as though he has human eyes. The Ute has shown redeye in a flash – but never the husky. The Ute is scared of the dark and will not go out alone – but the husky loves the dark and prefers to be outside at night-time until we go to bed.

    They both seem to buck the trend


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