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What is Blindness in Your Dog?

What is Blindness in Your Dog?

Blindness in dogs can result from various causes, and it can have a significant impact on your dog’s quality of life. It can be temporary or, more often, permanent. Blindness can be a challenging adjustment for both the dog and the owner, but with patience, love and some adjustments to the dog's environment and routine, many blind dogs can lead happy and fulfilling lives.

Dog Halo & Dog Goggles here

Blindness in Your Dog

There are various reasons that cause blindness in dogs. Some causes can be treated, but others can’t. It can be temporary but is, more often, permanent. 

Blindness in dogs can have a significant impact on their quality of life. It obviously affects a dog’s ability to navigate its surroundings and interact with its surroundings.  A lack of sight can be very frightening for a dog.

There are three levels of blindness: partially blind, when a dog might be able to see some shapes and light, or have blindness in one eye only; intermittently blind, when sight comes and goes randomly; and completely blind, when light is the only thing that can be seen.

Blindness can be a challenging adjustment for both the dog and the other owner, but with patience, love, and some adjustments to the dog’s environment and routine, many blind dogs can lead happy and fulfilling lives.

"Our dog went blind suddenly from SARDS. The Muffin's Halo was recommended by our vet and needless to say, it's been a lifesaver!! Oliver is fearless when he wears his Halo and doesn't miss a beat. We moved into a new house and he had to learn the layout and he would bounce off a wall and keep on truckin! I would highly recommend a Muffin's Halo for any blind dog. The quality is outstanding and they are cute too!"

Jasmine uses a Muffin's Halo

Blindness in Your Dog - The First Signs

Blindness in dogs can develop slowly or can have a sudden onset, depending on the cause.

Often, as owners, it can appear that your dog becomes blind quite suddenly, when in fact their eyesight has been deteriorating for some time. A dog which is blind in one eye will often go undetected, as they will compensate with their other eye, until this eye also loses its sight. Another factor which can mean blindness goes undetected, is your dog’s familiarity with their surroundings.

Therefore, it is not until your dog is put into an unknown environment, that it becomes apparent they are having difficulties. Typical behaviour of a dog who is blind or has limited sight is bumping into objects, walking along walls or leaning against their owners to help guide them.

As with some other canine conditions, dogs can be very adept at adjusting to, or hiding, a health challenge. This can make it hard for owners to spot the signs of blindness in their dogs.

If your dog’s gradually going blind, the same will be true. For example, if a dog loses sight in one eye, the other eye will compensate. It’s only if the remaining seeing eye fails, that the owner’s likely to notice there’s a problem. It can appear that your dog’s gone blind quite suddenly, when in fact their eyesight has been deteriorating for some time.

Another factor that means blindness can go undetected is your dog’s familiarity with their surroundings. Therefore, it’s not until your dog’s put into an unknown environment that it becomes apparent that they’re having difficulties seeing.

It’s much easier to notice if a dog loses their sight suddenly. The clues will then be far more obvious.

Symptoms of Blindness in Your Dog:

  • Increased general clumsiness
  • Bumping into objects, furniture, or walls
  • Walking along walls
  • Leaning against their owners to help guide them
  • Standing still in one place without moving, looking ‘lost’
  • Difficulty locating objects or people. They might be unable to find water, food, or toys.
  • Appearing apprehensive when playing
  • Seeming confused
  • Seeming afraid to move
  • Reluctant to go outside, particularly at night
  • Changes in temperament or behaviour. Might seem uncharacteristically depressed, jumpy - easily startled and nervous - clingy, or anxious.
  • Sleeping a lot, more than usual
  • Changes in appearance in the eye. A milky or cloudy appearance in the eyes (cataracts), eye redness, bulging eyes, enlarged pupils, or pupils not responding to light all might be signals of potential vision issues.
  • No longer making eye contact with you
  • Lack of response to visual cues and commands.
  • Excessive thirst (symptom of Diabetes or SARDS)

What Should I Do If My Dog is Blind?

If you suspect your dog is experiencing blindness, seek veterinary advice promptly. As with many conditions, early intervention can often improve the prognosis.

Even if your dog is approaching old age and it may seem that blindness is an inevitable aspect of this, don’t assume that’s the case. Take your dog to get checked out to ensure the blindness isn’t a symptom of something sinister, or causing a lot of pain.

Your vet will do a thorough physical examination, body temperature, blood pressure, weight, breathing, blood oxygen levels, respiration and heart rates. 

A thorough eye examination will follow, including testing pupil reaction time, and overall eye health, to help determine the cause and extent of the blindness.  Early intervention can often improve the prognosis and allow your dog to adapt to its changed vision.

Your vet will examine your dog. He may use an ophthalmoscope to look into the eye, to assess the whole eyeball, including the back (fundus). A ‘tonometer’ is used to check the pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure). It’s likely blood samples will be taken to see if any underlying issues are contributing to the sight loss. A CT scan is also possible, in order to check for any neurological issues.  

Certain conditions need to be eliminated as potential causes of blindness. These include diabetes and Cushing’s disease. Bloods may be taken for blood glucose, serum chemistry analysis, complete blood count, comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), urinalysis, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), serum cholesterol, and bilirubin.

Your vet may refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Once a diagnosis has been made, your vet will talk through ways to manage your dog’s blindness on a temporary, or ongoing, basis.

What Causes Dog Blindness?

There are many reasons why a dog might go blind. Old age can also contribute.

Cataracts: a cloudy appearance in the eye is a signal that there are changes to the lens inside your dog’s eye that might be cataracts. The cloudiness is due either to changes in the proteins in the lens, or the water balance in the lens. Light is no longer able to reach the retina through the cloudy lens..

Glaucoma: increased pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure) that is caused by inadequate drainage of the liquid (aqueous fluid) inside the eyeball. It’s a painful condition for your dog. There are two types of glaucoma: 

  • Primary - in healthy dogs who have inherited anatomical abnormalities in the drainage angle of the eye;  and secondary, where the pressure is caused by disease or injury of the eye.
  • Secondary - as a result of injury or disease
  • Uveitis: inflammation inside the eye
  • Tumours: causing physical blockage
  • Intraocular bleeding: blood clots in the eye can stop draining of the aqueous fluid
  • Damage to the lens: a ruptured lens can leak lens protein into the eye. This causes inflammation and swelling, and therefore blockage of the drainage angle.

Uveitis: inflammation inside the eye.

Retinal disease - This can be disease at the back of the eye:

  • Retinal detachment - the process where a layer of light-sensitive cells have detached from back of the eye and are floating around feeling
  • Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS) - Receptors in the retina, which convert light into electrical signals which are then sent to the brain, start malfunctioning. The retina then degenerates. Blindness can seemingly happen over night.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

Optic nerve disease: the optic nerve that connects the brain to the eye can become inflamed (optic neuritis) Your dog’s pupils remain dilated and won’t react to light. There are many reasons for optic neuritis.

Brain disease: includes Stroke, Tumour or Infection

  • General disease: For example, blindness in dogs with diabetes is quite usual. High blood pressure can cause blindness in dogs
  • Serious eye injuries: serious injuries to the front, back or whole eye can cause blindness.
  • Eye tumours: any tumours in and around the eye can cause blindness.
  • Hereditary Eye Disease: these are generally breed specific. Certain breeds of dog are prone to developing certain conditions that can cause blindness. 

From this list, the most common causes of blindness are cataracts, glaucoma, progressive retinal atrophy, and sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS).

Can I Prevent My Dog from Developing Dog Blindness?

Some of the blindness in dogs causes can’t be prevented (e.g. SARDS).

However, keeping your dog at a healthy weight with appropriate, good quality nutrition and regular exercise, will lower the risk of diabetes, one of the causes of blindness. 

Indeed, blindness from cataracts is one of the first symptoms to alert owners to the fact their dog’s diabetic. 1 in 10 dogs will get diabetes in their lifetime, and some estimates predict that 75% of these will lose their sight. 

Anecdotally, it’s been observed that female, middle aged dogs who are overweight seem more prone to going blind from SARDS. 

High blood pressure is another cause of blindness. Ensure your dog has regular vet check-ups and feeding your dog with the correct nutrition. Your vet may suggest vitamin/antioxidant supplementation as a simple way to deal with some of the issues related to nutritional deficiencies that cause high blood pressure.

Generally, Beta Carotene is good for eye health. Studies have shown that supplementation with antioxidants can have a positive effect on improving retinal health but didn’t show whether or not they could make a difference on dogs that already have retinal disease. There are specific eye health supplements for dogs available.

Minimise the risk of eye injuries if your dog likes to run and play in heavily wooded areas. Rex Specs Dog Goggles will protect your dog’s eyes from sticks or thorns going into them. 

If, for whatever reason, your dog does injure their eye, it’s recommended that you take them to the vet to get treated. Making an effort to keep the injury clean is key. Infections from injuries, rather than the injury itself, are a major reason why dogs go blind if they’ve injured their eye.

What Ages Suffer from Dog Blindness?

There are particular breeds of dogs, and sexes, that are prone to blindness.

Middle-aged female dogs are more likely to develop SARDS. In addition to this, dachshunds, miniature schnauzers, and mutts have a higher risk of developing the disease.

What Dog Breeds Suffer from Dog Blindness?

Miniature poodles, cocker spaniels, miniature schnauzers, golden retrievers, Boston terriers, and Siberian huskies are more likely to get cataracts. Golden retrievers are also susceptible to various problems with the back of their eye (retina) that can trigger blindness.

Collie breeds (Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers) can inherit a degenerative problem called Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), also known as Collie Eye Defect, which affects the retina, choroid, and sclera (white). There are now genetic tests for CEA.

Treatment Options: How Can I Help My Blind Dog?

Treatment for dog blindness really depends on what’s causing it. Sometimes the underlying condition that’s causing it may need to be treated, and there may be an improvement in sight depending on that.

Very rarely, again depending on the condition, corrective eye surgery (on occasion using a laser) can sometimes be an option but that’s usually also very dependent on whether the retina and nerves in the back of the eye are still in a healthy state. Other examples of laser eye surgery are for the removal of tumours in the iris. 

More often than not, however, if a dog’s gone blind then it’s usually permanent.  If your dog’s in pain from the eye condition that caused the blindness, then sometimes surgical removal of the eye (enucleation) is the best option as it means a dog is then pain-free.

There are many ways to help your dog adjust to being blind and make life easier for you and them. Ask your vet for advice on how to manage.

How To Help Around The House

There are many ways you can assist your dog who can’t see so that they can cope with their blindness. Exploit the fact that their other senses will kick in to compensate for the loss of their sight.

Use a Halo

  • Halos are navigational aids for blind dogs. They work by helping your dog to move around their surroundings without bumping into walls or objects or banging their heads.  This allows them to become more aware of their surroundings and let them create a mental map of where they are, without injury. Halos mean that blind dogs can gradually become more independent. You may be able to take them off the lead in a secured, safe space, for example, so they can explore on their own.

Use their Sense of Smell: 

Familiar smells are a way for your dog to feel secure and at home. They also form a part of the information your dog will use to build a mental map of your home. Don’t use air fresheners or anything else that might prevent them from smelling the smells which they’re used to. 

Take blankets or toys that smell familiar to them to give them comfort and confidence if they’re travelling.

Use their hearing:

  • If you have other animals, it’s helpful for your blind dog for them to wear bells or tags that make a sound, so that your blind dog can be aware of where they are.
  • Teach your dog verbal commands that will alert them that a hindrance is coming up. EG. “Step” for when they’re coming up to a stair or kerb. 
  • Talk to them before you come up to them to stroke them or put them on their lead, will help them know what’s happening and means they won’t be startled.
  • Chat to your dog. Chatting to your dog will help reduce any feelings of loneliness. 
  • Use noise to help them locate themselves. Wind chimes by your front door, and a radio left on in the same place when you go out are just two of the ways that can help your dog orient themselves in space.

Safety:

  • Use stair gates at the top and bottom of stairs so that your dog can’t have a fall.
  • Use the lead. Always use a lead when you’re taking your dog out for a walk. Otherwise, they may get lost or injured. By keeping your dog on a lead you can also stop a person or dog startling them, and avoid your dog possibly snapping or biting back in alarm.
  • A collar, lead or coat stating that your dog’s blind will alert people so they can act accordingly (keep other dogs from bounding up to them, etc)
  • On hands and knees, check what might be in your dog’s way at their level. Think about sharp furniture corners - do they need padding? 
  • Tidy away any trip hazards, such as wires, particularly in areas that your dog uses a lot to get to and from somewhere. 
  • Protect your dog by making sure they can’t get close to open fireplaces or woodburning stoves.

Familiarity:

  • Make sure your dog’s familiar with how to get to his food, his bed, and around the house and garden if you have one. After the initial diagnosis, ensure everything stays in the same place. If you need to change something, take your dog around the new layout several times on a lead so it becomes familiar. Likewise if you’re going to stay somewhere else. 
  • Keep food and water bowls in the same place so that they always know where to find them. 

Fitness and Mental Stimulation:

  • Regular walks are necessary for your dog’s general health and fitness. Beyond this, they can keep your dog from becoming depressed. Let them take the time to sniff interesting smells because now your dog’s blind, the other senses will start taking over. RexSpecs Dog Goggles can help
  • Create a safe, enclosed space where your dog can play. Ensure there’s nothing he can bump into. Get new toys - balls which make a noise are great -  and a snuffle mat, or lick mat, to keep your dog mentally engaged.

Conclusion

Of course blindness is a disability for a dog. However, with careful thought, preparation, and good teamwork between you and your dog, it’s a condition to which you can both adapt, so that your dog can still enjoy a happy, full life.

Dog Blindness - Causes, Prevention and How to Help

Read Further about Dog Blindness

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