Changes in vision are common as pets age; most of the time, the changes in eyesight gradually deteriorate, allowing you and your pet to adjust to their new way of life. But acute blindness in dogs can be devastating. Sudden and complete vision loss can be anxiety-inducing for everyone.
Signs of Pet Blindness
Any noticeable changes in your pet’s vision should be brought to your Vet’s attention immediately; here are a few things to look out for:
- Hesitancy to jump off the bed or go down the stairs
- Bumping into walls or furniture
- Not responding when you throw a toy
- Becoming startled by bright light (most common in pets with cataracts)
- Excessive thirst (diabetes and SARDS)
- Cloudy eyes
Vision loss in cats can have very similar signs. However, cat owners may also notice increased vocalization, disorientation, and dilated pupils.
Testing Your Dog’s Eyesight
Cotton Ball Test
While in your dog’s normal range of vision, move a small cotton ball or other scentless item and see if they react. Do they track it with their eyes? Toss it lightly and see if they respond to it.
Please pick up your pet and allow their feet to dangle. Slowly lower them toward a table or other elevated surface. Watch their reaction; Do they raise their leg to step up and help you? Or do they bump their legs on the edge of the table?
Navigating Indoor Obstacles
Dogs are creatures of habit and rely on all their senses to move around the house. Bumping into walls or furniture is a good indication of vision loss. Since dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell, existing furniture may smell familiar enough for them to step around (even if they can’t see it). For a vision test, place new obstacles in unexpected places and observe how they get around the space. If they bump into or trip over the obstacle, it's time to see your Vet.
Tip: Remember, this should only be done as a test; rearranging furniture or moving familiar objects can be extremely dangerous for a blind pet.
Causes of Sudden Vision Loss in Dogs
Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration (SARDS)
SARDS is a generative eye condition that causes an otherwise healthy dog to become suddenly blind. From start to finish, the loss of vision typically occurs within one month.
Before diagnosis, pet parents notice an increase in their dog’s food and water consumption, frequent urinating, and weight gain.
SARDS affects more female dogs than males, most often seen in Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Pugs, Brittany Spaniels, and Maltese breeds.
Most diabetic dogs develop cataracts within 5-6 months of diagnosis. Diabetic cataracts develop very quickly, with complete vision loss in less than 48 hours. Cataract surgery is possible if the eye is otherwise healthy, and vision loss may be restored.
Glaucoma is one of the dogs' most common causes of blindness and generally occurs in one eye first. This condition causes a painful build-up of pressure in the eye, damaging and killing the retinal cells. Pet parents usually see signs of pain, swelling, and squinting in their dogs. If treated quickly by a Vet, they may be able to save the pet’s eyesight by relieving eye pressure.
Sudden retinal detachment is the leading cause of blindness in cats. Detachment can be caused by trauma but is most often due to a pet’s high blood pressure. If a pet’s blood pressure can be controlled by medication and normalized quickly, partial reattachment may be possible.
How to Help a Blind Pet
The good news is that blind pets can live long, happy, and otherwise healthy life. Here are a few simple ways you can help your pet adjust to life without sight:
- Avoid rearranging furniture or moving familiar objects
- Introduce them to a Blind Dog Halo – this will allow them to get around on their own safety. The halo will bump into objects before they do, which helps your pet to build up their confidence
- Please keep them in a safe space while they adjust and gate off stairs and other areas that may be too dangerous for them to navigate on their own
- Turn on lights when you enter a room or make a noise to avoid startling them
- Touch your pet frequently to let them know you’re nearby
- Walk them around the house and refamiliarize them with where things are located (especially food, water, favorite toys, and their bed)
- When walking outside, always walk your pet on a leash for their safety