“Is My Dog Blind?”: How to Tell and What It Means for You & Him
If you’ve noticed your dog moving cautiously around the house or bumping into objects that are part of his everyday life, it’s time to visit the vet. These could point to impaired vision or blindness. Blindness in dogs can happen gradually or suddenly, and it can mean a big lifestyle change for both your pooch and you. Learn about the causes of blindness, the symptoms, and what happens next for a blind dog.
What Causes Dogs to Go Blind?
There are many reasons a dog can experience worsened sight or sight loss, ranging from disease to damage to the eyes. The most common causes are:
- Cataracts, often caused by diabetes
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Retinal detachment, often caused by kidney failure and the hypertension that results from it
- Suddenly acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARD)
Some breeds are more likely to develop cataracts than others. These include:
- Miniature schnauzers
- Miniature poodles
- Cocker spaniels
- Golden retrievers
- Boston terriers
- Siberian huskies
Others are more likely to develop SARDS:
- Miniature schnauzers
- Mutts in general
If a dog goes blind, it will most likely happen to him in his old age.
SARDS is especially alarming because it’s sudden blindness. If your dog could see yesterday and can’t today, he may have SARDS. The median age of dogs who develop SARDS is 8.5, and 60% to 70% of them are female. Unfortunately, the cause of sudden onset blindness isn’t yet known. Some specialists suspect an inflammatory or autoimmune culprit, or allergies.
How Loss of Vision Is Diagnosed
The first symptoms of blindness in dogs are often noticed by their owners. Forty to fifty percent of visually impaired dogs drink more water, eat more food, and urinate more. They also experience weight gain and often don’t want to play as frequently. They sleep more and might show signs of depression. You may notice your pup moving cautiously around the house and/or bumping into things in his environment. Some owners report these signs even in dogs with SARDS, where loss of sight is sudden.
For your dog to be officially diagnosed and to get the important information you need about caring for a blind dog, it’s crucial to take him to the vet. First, your vet will ask about your dog’s history, then they’ll administer vision assessments.
Your Dog’s History
These are some questions you should be prepared to answer about your dog:
- Do you think he’s partially or completely blind?
- Has the change been gradual or was it acute (He could see yesterday, and he can’t today.)?
- When did you start noticing signs of vision loss?
- If the appearance of the eyes is different, when did that happen?
- Is he on any medications?
This will help the vet understand whether the blindness might be related to an underlying condition.
There are lots of tests that help a veterinarian determine whether a dog is blind. Most are done twice—once for each eye.
- The maze test – The vet sets up a series of harmless obstacles in the room and asks you to stand on the opposite side of them from your dog, then call him. The vet will see whether your dog can make it to you on his own.
- The cotton ball test – Your vet will throw cotton balls (or something else without a scent or a noise) into your dog’s field of vision to see if he flinches or reacts.
- The menace assessment – The vet makes menacing gestures in the direction of your dog’s eyes. They are careful not to make them too close to his face, so he doesn’t feel air moving on his eyes. If your dog sees the vet’s gestures, his menace response will be to move his head or blink.
- The visual placing reaction (best for dogs that can be picked up) – The vet will hold your dog with his legs dangling and move him toward the surface of a table, as if they’re going to place your dog on it. If your dog can see, he’ll move his legs to step onto the table.
- The pupillary light reflex test – In a dim room, your vet will shine a bright light into your dog’s eyes to gauge how his pupils react. This helps reveal whether there’s a lesion.
How to Care for a Blind Dog
The diagnosis of partial or full blindness is scary, especially because most of the time, there is no treatment. If your dog has cataracts, take him to a veterinary ophthalmologist right away. This specialist may be able to perform cataract surgery and restore some sight.
If your dog’s sight loss is permanent, don’t panic! Blindness in dogs is manageable. In fact, most dogs adapt to loss of vision better than their owners expect. In a survey of 100 SARDS dog owners, just 9 reported that they thought their dogs’ quality of life was poor. In almost all cases, they said their dogs’ ability to navigate their house and yard and new places was moderate to excellent! Dogs are incredibly adaptable, and with a little help from you, a blind dog can have a very fulfilling life.
Adopt some of these changes to make your dog as comfortable and capable as possible:
- If your dog is crate-trained, take advantage of that at first—especially if he has sudden blindness to confine him in a familiar space when you’re not around. If he’s not crate-trained, use baby gates to restrict him to safe areas.
- Add bells or tags to yourself and other animals in the house, so your dog knows where you are. This can be especially helpful outside.
- Get down on his level to discover and remove any dangerous obstacles, like table corners. If you can’t rearrange something, add essential oils or another scent to it, so your dog recognizes when he’s near it.
- Utilize textures! Put a carpet runner at the top of the stairs, so he knows when he’s approaching them or a mat under his food and water bowls to help him find them.
- Keep him on a leash outside, so he doesn’t wander too far away, at least until he gets used to your enclosed yard.
- If you need to introduce your pup to a new space, scatter dog food on the floor. He’ll use his nose to find it and move slowly, familiarizing himself with the area.
- Teach him important commands:
- “Heel” keeps him from wandering away when on walks.
- “Stop” or “wait” warns him when he’s approaching an obstacle like a table or a tree.
- “Step (up or down)” tells him stairs are in front of him.
Don’t forget to play! Your dog may not feel like playing as often as he once did, and you might need to adapt play to include noisy toys, but no dog’s life is full without some fun.
If you think your dog is going blind, remain calm. Your dog is likely to be anxious and scared himself, so keep your voice low and your movements predictable. Reach out to your veterinarian to schedule official vision assessments. He or she will be able to give you helpful tips as well. If your dog is partially blind or still seeing, do what you can to protect and strengthen his eyes. Beta carotene is great for dogs and can be found in many foods they like, including cantaloupe and carrots. And make sure to visit the vet for routine care, so they can spot and treat illness or disease before they cause blindness.
Ready to make an appointment for your pup? Contact Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital today!
The Team @ Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital
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