How To Tell If Your Dog Is Going Blind

Just as our health can decline as the years go by, our dogs are no different. Some body systems will struggle to carry on as they once did in their prime, and this includes our dog’s vision system.

Many dogs will develop vision impairment as the years go by, leading to eventual blindness for some senior pups.

Our dogs cannot verbalize their experience each day, so it’s up to us to catch on to any changes in their normal behavior or routine.

Loss of vision can be deeply impactful for the canine friends in our home, so it’s important for pet parents to be educated on the many signs of blindness in dogs.

To help you better spot vision loss in your senior dog, we will discuss the details below.

How To Tell If Your Dog Is Going Blind

Is Vision Loss Normal In Old Dogs?

Before we discuss the details of vision loss in dogs, we should first answer the question of whether or not vision impairment is normal in dogs as they age. When their vision declines gradually over time, this can be a normal deterioration process.

Loss of a dog’s eyesight can come along with simple aging or common eye conditions in senior dogs, so it is not always a major cause of concern.

Sudden blindness or eye discomfort is never normal in dogs.

If your dog goes from having normal vision one day to being visually impaired the next, this always warrants immediate veterinary attention. Acute vision impairment can point to an array of underlying health issues, and these pups face the potential for complete blindness if they do not receive care quickly.

Signs Of Partial Or Complete Blindness In Dogs

We may not be able to see the world through our dog’s eyes, but we can decipher the clues they offer us when it comes to their vision capabilities. Many dogs that are losing their vision will begin to struggle in obvious ways, ranging from bumping into furniture to becoming startled with every touch.

Some of the most common signs of vision loss in dogs include:

  • Appearing hesitant to navigate stairs or other “challenging” obstacles
  • Bumping into objects around your home, especially new furniture
  • No longer jumping on furniture
  • Appearing uneasy or stressed in new environments
  • Appearing startled when you pet them, as if they didn’t see you come
  • Difficulty navigating your home at night
  • Not making eye contact with you when you call them
  • Becoming aggressive when approached, only to be relived when they realize it is someone they know
  • No longer being interested in activities or games they once enjoyed
  • Struggling to gauge stairs or other small obstacles in their path
  • Change in eye appearance
  • Cloudy eyes
  • White spots in their eye
  • Squinting or appearing to have eye irritation
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Pawing at the face
  • Redness or swelling around their eyes

As you can see, there are many signs to be on the lookout for when assessing our dog’s vision. Though most of these changes will occur gradually, it’s important to reach out to your vet if any of these signs develop suddenly.

What Is Causing My Dog’s Vision Loss?

There are many different factors that could be contributing to your dog’s vision problems. Ranging from natural deterioration to acute eye conditions, let’s discuss the many potential causes of dog blindness below.

Your Dog Has Cataracts

Cataracts are one of the most common causes of vision loss in dogs. Cataracts often begin as a tiny white spot on your dog’s eye, only to increase in circumference as time goes by.

Cataracts can progress to a thick white film that covers the entire lens, making it impossible for light to enter your dog’s eyes and reach the retina. Because of this, many dogs will experience near blindness if their cataracts are left unresolved.

Dog With Cataract In Left Eye
Image Credit – WVS

Though some dogs will have hereditary links to cataracts, most will develop the eye condition due to diabetes mellitus. Over 50% of dogs with diabetes will develop cataracts at some point, so it is to be expected in most pups with the condition.

It is so common that many vets will now prescribe eye drops that slow the progression of cataracts once a dog is diagnosed with diabetes.

Cataracts are not known to be painful, but they can decrease your dog’s quality of life if they can no longer see. There are eye drops that help to slow the progression of cataracts in dogs, as well as a reparative surgery that removes the thick film from the surface of the eye.

Your Dog Has Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive retinal atrophy is a condition in which the dog’s retina slowly degenerates. The retina is responsible for detecting light that passes through the eye and sending the images to the brain, so when the retina degenerates, the vision loss occurs.

PRA is most commonly seen in middle age to senior dogs, but it can develop in young dogs as well.

Progressive retinal atrophy is thought to be a heredity condition, as there are certain breeds of dogs that are most prone to developing it.

Some of the at risk breeds include:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Rottweilers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Cocker Spaniels.

Your Dog Has High Blood Pressure

There are many ways in which hypertension can lead to health issues for your pup, and potential blindness is one of them. Chronic high blood pressure in dogs can cause the vessels within the retina to suddenly tear, leading to progressive or sudden blindness in the pup affected.

The only way to hopefully restore vision for these pups is by getting the blood pressure under control, as this can hopefully allow the retina to repair itself. However, it’s not guaranteed.

Your Dog Has Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a serious and painful condition that can lead to eventual blindness in dogs. Glaucoma refers to an increase in pressure within the eye due to fluid buildup, putting strain on the dog’s retina and optic nerve.

If the high pressure is not resolved, not only can the dog experience severe pain, but they can suffer permanent damage to both the retina and the optic nerve. If this is the case, some dogs will go blind.

While you may not always be able to restore vision in dogs if it is caught too late, the glaucoma itself typically can be managed with daily eyedrops.

However, if your dog is in too much pain each day, your vet may recommend removing the affected eye.

Your Dog Has Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome

Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome is a rare condition that is still not well understood. SARDS causes sudden blindness in the dog affected, and often develops over a period of less than 30 days. Some dogs have even been known to go blind overnight, and this blindness is irreversible.

There is no known cause of SARDS in dogs, but it is most often believed to be an immune mediated condition that attacks the components of the eye. There may also be some genetics components to the condition, as it is seen most often in certain breeds.

SARDS is typically seen in:

  • Dachshunds
  • Pugs
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Beagles
  • Maltese

Your Dog Has Pannus

Pannus is an immune mediated condition that occurs within the dog’s eye. It most often begins as a raised pink lump on the cornea, typically developing on the outer corner of the eye.

This mass may start off small, but it will soon grow and spread out to the entire eye if it is not diagnosed and treated. If the mass is able to spread through the eye, this can lead to blindness for the pup.

Thankfully, pannus is typically easily treated with daily eye drops that stops the immune response in its tracks. As long as the condition is well managed, most dogs have a great prognosis.

Your Dog Has Dry Eye Complications

Dry eye in dogs, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is a condition in which the dog’s eye does not produce an adequate amount of tears.

Without proper lubrication in the eye, the dog will experience severe irritation and the threat of secondary corneal ulcers. If these ulcers are left untreated, the pressure within the dog’s eye can begin to build.

If the pressure is not addressed, the dog’s retina can be permanently damaged.

Dry eye in itself does not lead to blindness in dogs, but leaving dry eye untreated can certainly cause a waterfall of complications.

Dogs with dry eye will typically develop eye redness and obvious irritation, so you will need to have them seen by a vet when this occurs. As long as your pup is diagnosed and treated early on, most dogs do well with daily eye drops.

Can You Treat Blindness In Blind Dogs?

As we discussed above, there are an array of underlying causes of blindness in dogs. However, most of these conditions were progressive, meaning you can intervene early on if you ever notice changes in your dog’s eye appearance or behavior.

Though you may not always be able to reverse any damage that has already been done, there is a chance that you can slow the progression of their eye disease.

The best way to properly treat your dog’s eye condition is by having your dog seen at the first sign of eye changes, following the guidance of your vet or veterinary ophthalmologist, and maintaining a relationship with them as time goes on.

Can You Prevent Senior Dogs From Going Blind?

Just like you and I, some aspects of our dog’s health will deteriorate as the years go by. However, it does not mean that you should simply ignore any eye changes and assume they are normal.

While you may not be able to prevent the eye condition that has developed in your dog, you might be able to prevent ultimate blindness through a proper medical management plan.

If you ever notice any changes in your dog’s eye appearance, as well as any sign of vision impairment, it’s important to have them seen by a vet as soon as possible. They could have developed an eye condition that can be managed moving forward, meaning you may be able to prevent them from losing all of their vision.

Partial blindness is much easier for our pups to manage than complete blindness, so it is always best to act as soon as you can.

How Can I Take Care Of My Blind Dog?

If your dog has gone completely blind, there are many ways in which you can improve their quality of life moving forward.

Dogs handle blindness much better than humans do, so they can still have many happy days ahead of them. Caring for a blind dog is all about making their life as easy and comfortable as possible.

Some of the best ways to care for your blind dog include:

  • Try not to rearrange furniture in your home, as this may confuse them
  • Make sure their food and water bowl always stays in the same spot, as well as any other items they use often
  • Try to keep all walk ways as clear and clutter free as possible
  • Announce your presence in the room with a soothing voice, as this will let them know it’s you and not a scary stranger
  • Monitor all interactions with other pets, as they will not be able to decipher any body language
  • If you still take your dog for walks, try to stick to familiar paths you know they enjoy
  • Try to limit any new experiences if this overwhelms them
  • Block off any dangerous obstacles such as stairs or high steps

By making sure your home is comfortable for a blind furry friend, you can eliminate a large amount of anxiety surrounding their blindness.

Is My Blind Dog Suffering?

If you have a blind furry friend in your home, you may be wondering how you will know if they are suffering. Most dogs handle partial or complete blindness very well, but there will be some furry friends that cannot cope.

If you have taken all the necessary steps to make your home as comfortable and reliable for your blind dog as possible, and your dog is still struggling, they could be suffering from other forms of decline.

For example, many old dogs can eventually lose their hearing and cognitive abilities, and this can lead to significant anxiety each day if they are also blind.

If at any point your dog loses interest in things they once enjoyed, appears stressed or anxious often, develops chronic confusion, or any other drastic shift in their behavior, it may be time to have a quality of life discussion with your vet.

You and your veterinary team know your pup best, so we always suggest leaning on them when you have questions about their quality of life.

Resources:

1.) VCA Hospitals

2.) Today’s Veterinary Nurse

3.) American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists

4.) Find A Veterinary Ophthalmologist

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