What Is Blindness in Dogs?
Dogs sometimes lose their vision in one or both of their eyes, often due to an eye disease or injury. Additionally, a dog may lose their sight if their brain becomes diseased or injured, as the eyes and brain seek to detect and interpret images. Blindness in dogs can manifest suddenly or develop gradually over time.
The prevalence of blindness in dogs is difficult to determine because many conditions can lead to it. Blindness is more prevalent in middle-aged and senior dogs than in young dogs.
While blindness itself is not usually life-threatening, some underlying causes of blindness can be. If your dog goes blind suddenly or experiences eye trauma, seek emergency veterinary care.
If your dog’s vision or eye appearance changes—even subtly—schedule a visit with your vet.
Symptoms of Blindness in Dogs
You may not be able to tell that a dog is blind simply by looking at them, but they may behave differently than a dog whose sight is not impaired.
A blind dog often bumps into objects and becomes lost in familiar places. They may no longer jump onto furniture or use the stairs. Additionally, they may not respond normally by blinking in response to an object, such as your hand, near their eyes.
In addition to behavioral changes, changes in the appearance of a dog’s eyes may be a sign that they are losing their sight. Depending on the underlying cause of a dog’s blindness, their eyes’ appearance may change in one or more of the following ways:
Increased green eye reflection
Causes of Blindness in Dogs
A dog can lose their sight due to illness or injury. Some of the many diseases and conditions that can lead to blindness in dogs include:
A cataract affects the eye’s lens, a normally clear structure that sits behind the colored part of the eye (the iris) and the pupil opening. As a cataract develops, it hardens the lens, which becomes white, obstructing your dog’s vision. Cataracts can occur at any age but they are more common in older dogs and in those with diabetes.
The eye is constantly creating and draining fluid to maintain a standard pressure. Glaucoma develops when an eye’s drainage system clogs, either from a congenital defect (one present at birth) or from another eye disease. As your dog’s eye pressure rises, they experience pain. The nerve cells at the back of their eye—which are responsible for vision—are damaged.
When a dog’s eye pressure either spikes extremely high or remains higher than normal for a long period, they can become blind. Certain purebred dogs, including English and American Cocker Spaniels, Siberian Huskies, Chow Chows, Beagles, and Basset Hounds, may have a genetic predisposition to developing glaucoma.
Uveitis, or inflammation in the eye’s front portion, can occur as the result of an eye infection, cancer, or an autoimmune condition. Inflammatory cells can clog the normal drain system and lead to glaucoma or can trigger inflammation in the back of the eye, subsequently causing blindness. Any dog can develop uveitis.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is a retinal disease characterized by the deterioration of the cell layer lining the back of the eye that detects light. It can affect one or both eyes.
With PRA, a dog’s retina deteriorates over months or years, eventually causing blindness. This process is painless, and no treatment is available. PRA is genetic, and many breeds are at risk, including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Toy, Miniature, and Standard Poodles, Tibetan, English, and American Cocker Spaniels, and Tibetan and Yorkshire Terriers.
Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome
Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS) is a type of PRA that occurs over hours or days rather than months or years. SARDS’s causes are not well understood, but middle-aged female dogs and Dachshunds, Pugs, Miniature Schnauzers, and Brittany Spaniels seem to have a high risk of the disease.
Research links SARDS with some endocrine disorders, but more research is needed for veterinarians to understand this relationship. SARDS causes permanent blindness in both eyes.
In addition to developing degenerative diseases, the retina can detach from the back of a dog’s eye, causing immediate and sudden—but usually painless—blindness in one or both eyes.
A Shih Tzu’s retina can detach for no apparent reason. Other potential retinal detachment causes in dogs include immune system problems, eye surgery or injury, and high blood pressure.
Severe eye injury or trauma can cause a dog to lose their sight. Bleeding inside the eye, eye rupture, eye swelling, eye displacement (proptosis), and lens dislocation are eye traumas that can cause a dog’s blindness.
An injury that begins as a minor problem, such as a corneal abrasion, can progress to cause eventual blindness if the eye becomes infected or inflamed.
Sometimes, brain disease or injury can cause a dog’s blindness. Inflammation in the optic nerve, which transmits signals from the retina to the brain, is one cause of neurologic blindness.
Other causes include brain tumors, infections, and congenital brain malformations. Neurologic blindness is most likely to occur in middle-aged and older dogs.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Blindness in Dogs
Veterinarians diagnose blindness in dogs by taking a complete history and performing a series of vision assessment tests, such as checking the dog’s response to light and movement and watching them navigate an unfamiliar room.
Your vet will also perform a complete physical exam, check the pressure inside your pup’s eyes, and use a dye-containing eye drop to look for injuries.
Additional tests may be ordered if your veterinarian suspects that an illness or infection led to your pet’s blindness. If your dog has lost their sight, your veterinarian may perform one or more of the following tests:
Infectious disease testing
If the cause of your dog’s blindness is unclear, your vet may refer you to a specialist. A veterinary ophthalmologist can perform a more thorough eye exam and specialized testing, including an electroretinogram (ERG) or a retinal function test.
A visit with a veterinary neurologist may be necessary if your dog’s brain-health status is in question.
You can help your veterinarian determine why your dog has lost their sight by being prepared to answer their questions about your pet’s health and behavior history. Note when your dog’s symptoms began; whether the blindness occurred suddenly or over several days, weeks, or months; and any changes in your dog’s behavior and eye appearance.
Treatment of Blindness in Dogs
The treatment for a dog’s blindness will depend on the condition’s underlying cause. Once a dog loses their sight the blindness is often permanent, and treatments are directed at reducing pain rather than restoring vision.
If your dog goes blind in one eye and the other eye is also at risk, your veterinarian may be able to help prevent or slow vision loss in the sighted eye through treatment.
A dog experiencing progressive blindness as a result of retinal degeneration or slow cataract formation may benefit from the supplement Ocu-GLO®, which contains vitamins and strong antioxidants vets believe may slow progressive ophthalmic conditions.
If the blind eye has no chance of regaining vision and is causing your dog significant pain, your veterinarian may perform eye removal surgery, which is often the best treatment option. If your veterinarian thinks vision recovery is possible, treatments may include:
- Anti-inflammatory, antiglaucoma, or antibiotic eye drops
- Oral steroids
- Eye surgery
If a systemic health condition, such as high blood pressure, brain disease, or a fungal infection, has caused your dog’s blindness, your veterinarian will prescribe treatments specific to those conditions. Additional treatments specifically directed at the eye may also be recommended.
Recovery and Management of Blindness in Dogs
As noted, if your dog becomes blind, they may not regain their sight. Even if the cause of your dog’s blindness is reversible, such as cataracts, you should be prepared for the possibility that your dog will remain blind or may lose their vision again. However, dogs can live full, happy lives without vision.
Recovery should focus on keeping your dog comfortable and managing their pain. If an illness is causing your pup’s blindness, follow your vet’s instructions regarding nutrition, medications, and follow-up appointments. Keep your pet in a small, cozy area free from obstacles and stairs.
Once your dog is feeling better, you can begin to help them adapt to their vision loss.
Allow your dog to navigate small areas of your home using their other senses, and resist the urge to pick them up and carry them around, which will only disorient your pup. You can walk by your dog’s side to redirect them gently if they need help and encouragement to continue exploring.
If a dog loses their vision gradually, they are likely to adapt well and not need much extra help.
However, a dog who loses their vision suddenly will need more support. You can make your home safer by using mats with different textures to mark doorways and stairwells and supervising stair use until your pet can navigate on their own. Keep a harness or head collar on your dog so you can guide them more easily if needed. Always talk to your dog before you touch them and avoid awakening them suddenly.
To alert others around you of your dog’s condition, use collars, leashes, and harnesses that indicate your dog is blind. This helps prevent people and their dogs from startling your pet. Other helpful items for blind dogs include a halo harness that provides a face-protecting bumper bar, and balls or other toys that make noise during play.
Prevention of Blindness in Dogs
Depending on your dog’s condition, your veterinarian may be unable to prevent them from becoming blind. However, by ensuring your pup receives regular veterinary exams and preventive care visits, your vet may be able to detect your dog’s eye problem in the early stages and start treatment before the issue worsens.
If behavior changes in your pup indicate their vision is impaired or if their eyes’ appearance changes, make an appointment with your vet.
Blindness in Dogs FAQs
How do you reverse blindness in dogs?
Most causes of blindness are irreversible, meaning the blindness is permanent. However, you should take your dog to the vet if you notice any eye changes or signs of vision loss. If your dog’s sight impairment is reversible, they have the best chance of regaining their vision when your veterinarian begins treatment right away.
How do you slow the progression of blindness in dogs?
Products containing high levels of antioxidants may slow the progression of cataracts or PRA. If a corneal problem is diagnosed, your veterinarian may prescribe specific eye drops to slow disease progression. Do not stop administering your dog’s eye medications without first consulting your veterinarian.
How costly is blindness-reversal surgery for a dog?
If the cause of your dog’s blindness is reversible, such as cataracts or some forms of retinal detachment, surgery may restore their vision. Only veterinary ophthalmology specialists perform these surgeries. Costs vary depending on where you live, but you can expect to pay between $2,000 and $10,000.
Can blind dogs go on walks?
A blind dog can continue to do many of the activities they enjoyed while they were fully sighted, including going on walks. Choose one or two walking routes and stick to them exactly each time, so your dog’s brain can mentally map and navigate each route. Teach your dog cues, including “step,” “stop,” “left,” and “right,” to help guide them.
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