Are Pets Afraid Of The Dark?


Discussing What Our Pets Fear And If Darkness Is One Of Them

“There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As true and impactful as this statement is, it’s still easy for our imaginations to wander when we’re alone in the dark. Being unable to see what is around us can leave us feeling vulnerable and anxious. This bears the question, do our pets feel the same way? Does their imagination run as wild as ours when we can’t see our surroundings? The answers may surprise you!

Dogs In The Dark

Typically speaking, most dogs are not afraid of the dark. This is because dogs can actually see better in the dark than we humans can, according to Dr. Mary R. Burch (a certified animal behaviorist and director of the American Kennel Club family dog program). This is a result of dogs having more light sensitive cells in their eyes called Rods. Rods and Cones are the two types of receptors in the retina of our eyes that are responsible for our sight. These receptors convert the light that enters your eye into electrical signals which are then decoded by the vision-processing part of the brain. Essentially, the Cones help us distinguish different colors whereas the Rods help us see in dim light. Surprisingly enough, dogs have fewer Cone receptors than humans. This means that they can’t see as many colors as humans. But, because dogs have more Rod receptors, they can see better in the dark than humans can. Not exactly the best trade-off, but it does help them feel more comfortable when in dark or dim places. 

Cats In The Dark

Contrary to popular belief, cats do not have night vision. However, cats can see very well in dim light because they have large corneas and pupils. In regards to eye anatomy and physiology, the cornea is the clear dome located on the front surface of the eye which lets light in. The cornea helps protect the front of the eye and also helps focus light on the retina (the retina contains the Rod and Cone receptors mentioned previously) located at the back of the eye. The pupil is the black area in the middle of the eye which is responsible for letting light in. In a dark environment, the pupil becomes larger to let more light in. In a bright environment, the pupil becomes smaller to let less light in. A cat’s corneas and pupils are 50% larger than humans which allows more light to enter their eyes and therefore helps them see better in the dark. This is most likely an evolutionary trait as cats are crepuscular animals, meaning they are primarily active during the twilight periods of sunrise and sunset. Having these larger corneas and pupils makes them much better hunters during the twilight hours and thus less afraid of the dark than we humans are. 

Trauma Related Experiences

While both dogs and cats have better vision in the dark compared to humans, that doesn’t necessarily mean they enjoy being in the dark. Our pets have a better memory than most of us think. Pets often associate past experiences (both good and bad) with the people, places, and things around them. For example, if your pet had a bad experience at the veterinarian office, they will most likely learn to fear going to the veterinarian office in the future as they now associate that negative experience with that particular place. This memory of association will play a huge role in whether or not your pet likes or dislikes the dark. Generally speaking, most pets won’t mind being in the dark due to their inherent abilities to see better in the dark than we can. However, if your pet had a negative and/or traumatic experience in the dark, they may very well be afraid of the dark as a result. Every pet is unique and has a different set of experiences and history under their belt, so whether or not your pet is afraid of the dark will vary on a case by case basis. If you’re interested in learning more about how dogs perceive the world around them, check out our previous article entitled Deaf Dog Awareness Week. 

The Big Picture

So what’s the big takeaway here? Most dogs and cats are not afraid of the dark because they have much better vision in dim light than we do. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all dogs and cats are fearless when it comes to dark environments. Some dogs and/or cats may have had a traumatic experience while in the dark and have learned to fear the dark ever since. Some dogs and/or cats may have medical issues that impair their vision in the dark such as glaucoma, cataracts, or infections. Whether or not your pet is afraid of the dark will vary based on their past experiences and overall health. Regardless, always keep in mind that your pet can be afraid of the dark for a variety of reasons which is all the more reason for you to keep them company at night and even leave a nightlight on.