Veterinarians recommend that dog owners have their pets examined at least once a year. During a routine physical, a physician may be able to detect the early stages of blindness.
Dogs start losing their vision for a number of reasons that include age, heredity, breed and disease processes. When canine owners notice that their four-legged friends cannot navigate without bumping into objects, the animal may be going blind. Other telltale signs include being fearful of loud noises or hesitant to go outdoors.
Here is an in-depth look at the causes for dog blindness and the ways in which some can be corrected:
Dog Blindness Causes, Treatments & Preventions
Older dogs may develop a number of eye problems that could lead to blindness. Cataracts, glaucoma and chronic eye infections are some of the major reasons for vision loss.
A hereditary condition known as progressive rod-cone degeneration or PRCD causes a loss of function in the photoreceptors that is often mistaken for cataracts. The disorder involves a genetic mutation that gradually develops during adolescence or in an adult dog. In time, the retina deteriorates, which leads to blindness.
Dogs may develop cataracts for a variety of reasons. The disorder involves visible clouding of one or both of the eye lenses. The clouding occurs gradually over time and is the result of the degradation of the proteins in the lens. In some dogs, the cloudiness remains limited to a small area and never progresses. However, in other animals, the entire lens degrades, which results in total blindness of the eye.
Surgical intervention and lens replacement is the only way to correct the pet’s vision. The delicate procedure is performed under general anesthesia. After surgery, pet owners receive a detailed list of instructions and medications to ensure recovery.
Every breed of dog has the potential of developing diabetes. However, Australian terriers, Bichon Frise, Keeshonds, Samoyeds and Schnauzers are some of the breeds more likely to develop the disorder. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas makes an insufficient amount of insulin or stops producing insulin altogether. Glucose then remains in the blood and cannot enter cells. Symptoms of diabetes mellitus include excessive hunger, thirst, urination, and weight loss. The disease is also known to cause cataracts in dogs.
It is common for a pet to develop cataracts within six months of being diagnosed. Total blindness may occur in 48 hours. The condition takes place due to the fact that glucose enters the aqueous humor of the eye. Proteins convert the glucose into sorbitol, which accumulates in the lens causing swelling and eventual rupture. Correction may include surgery, oral and ophthalmic medications.
The iris and lens within the eye are naturally surrounded by fluid. Under normal conditions, the fluid moves into and out of the eye without difficulty. However, secondary conditions that may include cataracts, inflammation, trauma or tumors may block the circulation process, which causes pressure to build under the accumulating fluid. On the other hand, primary glaucoma is an inherited condition that often occurs in Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels or Siberian Huskies.
Glaucoma may affect one or both eyes and be diagnosed as either acute or chronic. The condition is considered an emergency. If left untreated, blindness occurs. Symptoms include rubbing the eye or the face with a paw or against furniture. The affected eye may appear bluish or red. The affected eye will have a dilated pupil and often tears. The pain may cause appetite loss. Treatment involves oral and ophthalmic medications.
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca or KCS is also commonly referred to as “dry eye.” The disorder develops when the tear glands do not produce enough fluid to keep the eyes lubricated. If not treated, the cornea becomes damaged from inflammation, which could lead to permanent vision loss. Symptoms of KCS include stringy mucus discharge from the affected eye, redness, and a dry nostril on the same side as the affected eye. A thorough eye exam differentiates the disorder from an infection. Treatment involves medications that reduce inflammation and stimulate tear production.
Immune Mediated Superficial Keratitis or Pannus is most often seen in German Shepherds. However, Border Collies and Greyhounds may also develop the autoimmune disorder. The disease causes abnormal tissue growth on the cornea, conjunctiva or the third eyelid. If not treated with the proper medication regimen, the cornea may become entirely covered by the extra tissue growth and result in blindness.
SARDS refers to Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome. The disorder involves a rapid deterioration of the retina. The condition happens for unknown reasons and may cause total and irreversible blindness in a few days. SARDS is not painful and dogs adapt to the vision loss with the help of their owners.
Breed Specific Blindness
Some dog breeds are more susceptible to eye diseases than others. These breeds include:
- English Springer Spaniel: Cataracts and glaucoma
- Siberian Huskies: Corneal dystrophy, juvenile cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy or PRA and Uveodermatologic syndrome
- Poodles: Glaucoma and PRCD
- Collies: Breeds-Collie eye anomaly, which may lead to blindness in severe cases
- German Shepherds: Pannus
- Saint Bernards: Cataracts
- Kerry Blue Terrier: Cataracts and Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca
- Australian Shepherds: Cataracts
- Cockapoos: PRCD
- Retrievers: PRCD
Assisting a Blind Dog
Owners living with a blind dog must make safety a priority. Some basic tips include:
- Prevent your dog from falling down the stairs using a baby gate to keep them safely enclosed
- If you have multiple pets; separate food bowls so that the impaired dog gets his fair share of the meal
- On a walk, find physical cues that will help your dog familiarize himself. The feeling of grass vs. gravol can help them distinguish where they are on their walk and where to do their business
- Toys that make noise will become their best friend as it’s easier for them to detect where it is in the room and a tool for owners to get their attention
Does your pet suffer from dog blindness?