Five ways to know whether your pet is losing her vision

By Patty Khuly, DVM on Jun. 11, 2009

Regardless of your pet’s age, vision issues can come into play. For younger animals, these are usually the result of infections and hereditary diseases. For older ones, basic degeneration after a lifetime of use usually takes its toll––for some more than others. 

But how can you tell if she’s actually losing her vision? 

That’s tough, given that pet vision tends to be different from our own. Nonetheless, here’s a list of five ways to tell if Fido or Fluffy is having trouble seeing.

1. Know what’s normal for your pet

Ideally, every pet owner should get out there with their pet and establish a normal baseline for what their pet’s vision should be. Here’s how I do it: 

Take her favorite toy or treat and see how far you can get before she no longer knows it’s there. (Don’t use a bright or distinctive color or shape because she might recognize it before she’s truly seen it.) I tend to have you try this first from a large distance when you know she hasn’t seen it yet. Have someone else hold your pet while you walk slowly towards her. Try it several times to see at what distance she figures it out. 

I know it’s hard for cats but you can try with items on a counter far away. 

Another method involves simply paying attention to when she can recognize a friend walking towards her from a distance. Is it twenty yards? Ten?

Sure, this is a rough and dirty measurement (of distance sight only) but it works, especially if you keep the same toy or friend around. Should you start to worry about vision loss in the future, these simple tests will help you identify the loss of distance vision (as with cataracts) even before it becomes obvious to anyone but your veterinarian (with her special tools). 

2. What’s that on her eyes?

Notice a fuzziness in or on her eyes? Sometimes pets can see perfectly through or around these opacities but not usually. Typically, it’s evidence of vision loss. Get thee to thy vet.

3. The nighttime test

Night vision is often the first to go. But that’s hard to know because you’re not exactly watching your pet when it’s dark in the room. And pets don’t tend to bump into furniture––they know where it all is. By the time most of my clients notice loss of night vision things are usually pretty bad. 

That’s why I recommend watching your pet at nightif you suspect any vision loss at all. Move some furniture, turn off the lights, get your eyes used to the low light, then call your pet. See how he manages to make it over to you through the “obstacle course” youve set up.

4. Surprise! 

Does your pet seem to smell things before she sees them? Vision loss often becomes obvious when the pet doesn't register food as edible until she's close enough to smell it. This is a surefire way of knowing whether a vet visit is necessary.

5. Ask your veterinarian

In all cases of suspected vision loss, you’ll inevitably end up at your vet’s. Here’s where you’ll inform him/her of your suspicions and a complete eye exam will be performed. But not always will the routine eye exam pick up the vision abnormality. That’s because some structures are hard to see well without the kind of specialized equipment only an ophthalmologist usually keeps on hand. 

Should you need to see such a specialist your veterinarian will usually refer you to one right away for a full evaluation. New strides in treating vision loss can mean diet changes, medications, cataract surgery or even glasses (!). Though it may also mean further testing with a veterinary neurologist, consider the bright side: There’s a lot you can do to catch these problems early. So get to work!


Dr. Patty Khuly

Last reviewed on September 30, 2015


Patty Khuly, DVM


Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health