HEALTH & CARE

Blindness in Dogs: Learn How to Cope With Fido’s Condition

Blindness in Dogs
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Blindness in dogs can be associated with various diseases but it is usually an inevitable result of diabetes or old age. Blindness can be partial or total and it affects both the dog’s and owner’s lives, since the dog has to depend on his owner even more than before. If the blindness affects only one eye, it is called unilateral blindness; if it affects both eyes, it is bilateral. Sometimes dogs can become suddenly or gradually blind, and it depends on the severity of the disease.

This article will provide you with a list of causes, symptoms and a short guide on how to take care of your blind pet. Having a blind dog can be emotionally and physically distressing, but you should keep in mind that your furry dog depends on you, and just as you would take care of your family member, your blind dog should be properly taken care of too.

Symptoms of blindness in dogs

The observation of your dog’s eyes may not show that he is blind right away, and if you do not take your dog for the regular checkups, it will take some time before you notice anything unusual. However, there are some signs and symptoms that would suggest that your pet is losing his sight or that he has gone blind completely.

You must observe your dog. If you notice that he bumps into walls, furniture or other objects or that he is not confident about jumping and stepping on stairs, then you should be worried. If you decide to test the dog’s sight by shining a bright light into his eyes, you probably won’t find anything because the pupil constriction is not an accurate test and the pupils can become smaller from light reflexes. There is one way how you can test your dog: observe him in a dark room or place where the furniture has been rearranged.

If the dog hesitates and starts bumping into objects, then you should turn on the light and see if he is doing the same. If he does the same, he is probably completely blind, but if he shows more confidence, then that may mean that his sight has been only partially impaired.

Eye exam

However, you should keep in mind that only a vet can give you the qualitative diagnosis and information. Therefore, if you suspect anything, take your pet to the vet and have him examined.

There are some other signs that would show visual impairment, such as: the confusion in new surroundings, reluctance to move from one spot to another, the dog not being able to find food and water bowls, the dog being clumsy and disoriented in general, eye rubbing or squinting, cloudy, discolored, inflamed or tearing eyes with a large pupil and the dog being easily startled. A dog can also show signs of depression, anxiety, weakness, lethargy etc.

Some dog breeds are more at risk of developing blindness due to primary glaucoma, including the Beagle, Bassett Hound, Bouvier des Flandres, Chow Chow, Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Dalmatian, Great Dane, Poodle, Shar-Pei, Malamute, Siberian Husky and certain Spaniel breeds. When the cause of blindness is lens luxation, the breeds that are more prone to blindness are: Terriers, Spaniels, German Shepherd Dogs, Miniature Poodles, Toy Poodles and Chihuahuas. When blindness is caused by retinal detachment, Shih Tzu is a dog breed that is more at risk.

Causes of blindness in dogs

Even though dog blindness can be part of the aging process, there are some conditions that may lead to blindness in dogs, such as:

  • Abscess
  • Cataracts
  • Cerebral (brain) lesions affecting the optic nerve (congenital optic nerve hypoplasia)
  • Cerebral swelling (edema)
  • Collie eye anomaly
  • Corneal trauma
  • Corneal ulceration
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Dry eye syndrome
  • Glaucoma
  • Infectious or neoplastic diseases of the brain
  • Inflammation (optic neuritis)
  • Ivermectin toxicity and inflammatory
  • Lens luxation
  • Neoplasia (cancer)
  • Optic chiasm lesions
  • Progressive retinal atrophy
  • Retinal dysplasia and detachment
  • Retinal hemorrhage
  • Retinal pigment epithelial dystrophy
  • Stroke
  • Suddenly acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS)
  • Trauma
  • Untreated eye infections
  • Uveitis
  • Uveodermatologic syndrome

Many cases of canine blindness can be causes by genetics; however, the statistics show that these vision disorders have been more prevalent in white colored dogs such as Boxers and Great Danes. There is no a prevention protocol that may help your pet beforehand, however, the regular checkups can ensure that you find out about the condition and problem in time, and that can save your dog’s vision.

Glaucoma in dogs infographic

One of the less known causes is the suddenly acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS). This condition is usually associated with older pets and the medium age is 8.5 years. Some of the dog breeds that show a predisposition for this condition are Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Pugs, Brittany Spaniels and Maltese. Studies have shown that more than 60% of the dogs with this condition were female and that 46% of SARDS cases were diagnosed during the holidays in December and January. The cause of SARDS has been unknown and poorly understood, even now.

There is a lack of inflammation which means that this cause is immune-related. The cells of the rods and cones of the retina suddenly die out, which is called apoptosis. According to the recent surveys, more than 60% of the owners discouraged the need for euthanasia for dogs with SARDS, by stating that even though blindness was the factor for the decreased quality of life, they did not make special provisions for their dogs and that the navigation in and around the house was moderate to excellent.

How to care for a blind dog

Caring for a blind dog does not have to be a burden to owners, as some may think. Dogs adapt quickly to visual impairment and since they are using their other senses such as hearing and smell the most, they start to rely on them even more after becoming blind.

Dog with blindness

One of the first things that you need to do is prepare the environment. Remove any sharp objects and make sure to keep your pet away from the stairs or places that he may fall from. Avoid moving the furniture because the dog would have to adapt each time to the new setting. You should also avoid leaving boxes and toys in walking paths. You can try marking the bottom of the stairs with a perfume and using rags of different texture in different rooms, so the dog can get used to his sense of touch and differentiate the rooms.

You can create the ‘sniff’ path by using various air fresheners, and your dog will get used to them quickly. After that you should place the barriers around the hot tubs, pools or any other dangerous places so you can forbid your dog from stepping into them. Additionally, you should keep your dog’s water and food bowls in the same place. You can also cover the sharp corners and objects with the soft insulation, just like when people do with young children and babies.

After that, you should adapt your dog to the new kind of house training – that means that you will have to engage other dog’s senses more and reinforce commands by replacing the hand signals with the verbal signals and commands. It is similar to puppies since they have bad eyesight and they tend to rely on feel, smell and sounds. The next step is to condition your dog with words, since the dog cannot see your expressions or movements, you must teach your dogs to behave by touch or treats.

You can teach your dog by praising him with your voice and saying ‘Good!’ and giving him a pet or treat. The dog will remember that he has done a good thing and that he will be praised just as same the next time. If he does something that he should not, in that case raise your voice and say ‘Bad dog!’, ‘No!’, or ‘Stop!’. Some people believe that blind dogs are not distracted as sighted dogs due to their impairment, so they will focus more on your voice and touch.

You should also remember that you should never stair-train your blind dog because a blind dog should always be carried on stairs. A blind dog would be naturally afraid of heights and stairs and he can fall and tumble if he is forced to teach to go there by himself.

Blind dog uses smell to find owner

Do not forget to use your voice even more and to talk often to your pet. You should do it in a normal or cheerful way. Your dog will feel less lonely and afraid of the dark. You should always let the dog know before you approach him by calling out his name. When you bring new people to the house or you meet them outside, you should always let your dog smell their hand or legs before they touch him. Some owners even attach tiny bells to them and other family members so the dog can be alerted when someone is approaching.

You should place a unique scent on the toys or attach some noise makers to them, so the dog can find them. The squeaky toys can be a great choice too. There are also specific toys for blind dogs that can be bought at pet shops and that you can use to play hide and seek with them. Maintaining a normal routine is very important and that includes that only emotional support, but the physical too – take your dog on regular walks and let him take his time by smelling his surrounding and getting used to them.

Blind dogs need more time adjusting and smelling around them than sighted dogs. However, you should never let your dog off leash because he can seriously hurt himself. That also means that you should never ever let him out of your sight when you are surrounded by new environments.

When it comes to indoor tips, the drinking water fountains are great since the bubbling sounds they make can help your dog come to them more quickly. You can also keep your dog engaged and active inside by creating a crate to lounge where he can feel comfortable. If you have other animals and pets in your home, make sure to put bells on their collars or legs, so your dog can be warned beforehand and not get startled.

When it comes to outdoor tips, older dogs that are usually blind cannot exercise and walk as much as younger animals. You know your pet’s needs the most, so you should decide how much exercise is needed and where is the safest place for it. Your dog can get easily startled and frightened by unfamiliar sounds and especially animals, so you should not take him to the parks or places where he can get easily surrounded by strays.

Older blind dog

If you decide to travel with your dog or simply take him for grooming, make sure to bring his favorite toy or blanket with him and most importantly, tell people and friends about his condition. Others should never approach and pet your blind dog if he has not smelled them before or if he does not know them.

A dog that cannot see can react aggressively because of fear. It is better if a dog is confined at night, because he can hurt himself by roaming freely. Using a crate would be an ideal solution and if the dog gets nervous, you should pet him and call out his name until he feels reassured.

If you have a dog breed of small size, try avoiding carrying throughout the whole house, simply because when you get picked up and set down in another part of the house you can get very confused. Especially at the beginning, a dog should ‘map-out’ his surroundings in his mind, even if they are familiar.

You should use treats and a short lead and take your dog on a tour. By using scents and rugs of different textures, your dog should pick up the clues and start adjusting. People tend to carry small dogs, but they will get very afraid and confused when the owner is not close, so they should be taught being on their own too.

Tips for living with a blind dog

  • Remove any sharp objects from your home and ensure that the dog does not have any access to dangerous places;
  • Do not relocate the furniture too often and make sure that the water and food bowls are always in the same place;
  • Get your dog house trained by using vocal commands and signals instead of hand gestures and movements. That means adding short phrases (such as Good, Sit, No, Stop, Down etc.) to your daily activities. This can save your pet’s life if needed;
  • Make a ‘sniff’ or ‘carpet’ road throughout your home so the dog can easily navigate and walk;
  • Attach the bells to other pets so the dog can became aware of them;
  • Always carry your dog on stairs, never let him go where he can fall or tumble;
  • The leash is the most important tool since it is as holding your dog’s hand. You can keep your dog on the leash even inside, until he gets adjusted;
  • Do not forget to socialize your dog by letting friends touch them and other friendly dog come closer;
  • Do not forget to take your dog on regular walks, especially if he is young. You can also attach a notice so the others are aware of his condition;
  • Never let your dog off leash outside, he can get in trouble or hurt himself;

To sum up, there are many conditions that can cause partial or total blindness in dogs. We mentioned some of them, including the abscess, cataracts, cerebral (brain) lesions affecting the optic nerve (congenital optic nerve hypoplasia), diabetes mellitus, dry eye syndrome, glaucoma, neoplasia (cancer) retinal hemorrhage, retinal pigment epithelial dystrophy, stroke, suddenly acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS) and many more. Old dogs gradually become blind and sometimes even the genetics can be the main cause.

Don't let him go without leash

However, the most important thing to remember is that you should treat your dog normally and not pity him. You must ensure his safety by removing sharp object and then house train him by getting him used to verbal commands instead of the hand signals.

Blind dogs can get depressed if they are ignored or if you do not show them affection (since they cannot see your expression), and that is why you should talk to them often, pet them and show them that they are not alone.

Do not forget that a dog always depends on his owner, and when the dog is blind, he needs to rely on his owner even more. A blind dog can live cheerfully if he is properly cared of and you can enjoy your dear furry friend’s presence many years to come.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • May Walker

    I never considered the possibility that our dogs would be blind due to one thing or another. Not much, really. But this is a well of information that I’m glad I encountered nonetheless. I just hope I won’t ever find myself having to diagnose my dog for blindness, that’s just heartbreaking.

  • Lorrie Simmons

    Our dog is going blind due to diabetes complications. It’s difficult for my family, so I can imagine how it will also be for our beloved dog. How do we transition her so she can cope well with this? Your inputs are valuable, so please share with us. Thanks!

    • Blindness in dogs can be heartbreaking, but it should not be the end of the road for both the dog and the pet parent. Blind dogs, even those born blind, develop a sense of direction to help them in their way. They will eventually manage. Although not as functional as dogs that can see, blind dogs are not useless. They can still provide the affection and love, and they will also need the same. On your dog’s case, it will develop a mental map for the familiar places it has been to. The struggle will be there, especially in the first months of becoming blind, but I am confident that your dog will do well in the end.

      • Wendy Dweck

        My Maltese mix is approximately 13 years old. She is a rescue I found abandon in a wooded area around 13 yrs ago , which makes it difficult to determine her exact age ( she was in heat ) . Her blindness has been progressive over a period of two years. The Vet said she is totally blind in one eye , it is all white , she may see shadows in the other. We took her to a Veterinary Opthomologist that explained what cataract surgery would entail, 3 months of recovery and she would have to wear a cone … He gave us drops to put in each eye every morning. She is a happy dog , she plays with our 7yr old Shitzu , he helps guide her around ,,, she does very well in familiar places!!! We felt that better to let nature take its place and not opt for the risks of surgery because of her age. The vet says she is very healthy , every 4 months we take her for senior wellness exam , she is up to date with all shots and she is a great eater . She has been strong, healthy overall,although she has had allergies in the past ..which have been treated withantihistamine. My main concern is her breathing , if we should decide to do the cataract surgery? The vet says she is healthy and does not see a problem? Yet, all surgery is a risk?? We would have no problem with her post operative care, being retired , I am available to care for her consistently , whatever is required. I am so fearful of the anesthesia because of her breathing? I want to give her a chance to see again, she seemed so much more active when she had her eyesight . I am confused because ,she seems to have adapted to the world without sight. She is a very happy little dog, very much loved, showered with attention, spoiled in a good way!!! Shall I take the risk, invest the time and money for something that may be more of a human “need” than a dog’s natural process of aging???? My personal experience in life, whenever I have tried to “manipulate ” outcomes without allowing situations to go their natural course, I end up being gravely disappointed with the results!!! I would truly appreciate some input ..so indecisive.. Much Thanks “Gracie’s Mom”

        • Thanks for sharing your story, Wendy. Your dog is truly remarkable. If your veterinarian clears her for surgery, I believe it can be done safely with minimal risk. It would be a better solution than continuous medication management.

  • Blindness is dogs can be an inevitable situation, but I do hope this information will help you prevent, understand, and prepare somehow in case you’ll ever be in such case. Always remember that blindness in dogs is not a sentence, but a mere roadblock.

  • Sonnett Reyes

    I noticed a film over my Papa Bears eyes about 2 years ago. The vet said he was losing his sight ( he is a standard size long haired black and tan dauchund) and that he would be blind by the age of 10, and do we REALLY WANT to put him through that??? I found a new vet, and he is now a healthy happy 7 1/2 year old boy who just happens to be losing his vision. It’s worse at night so we talk to him when we take him outside more and we say something to prepare him for loud noise I’d possible. The only thing I do differently is I DO allow him in our back yard unattended sometimes (no pool or hazardous stuff just grass and a walkway) because I think we probably get on his nerves when we are so overprotective of him. If someone comes over he knows, they know to talk to him and he knows voices really well. If it’s someone new I or my husband explain that he is going blind and he needs to hear their voice and smell them so he can get to know them. No other lifestyle changes have to be made yet. He has lost his sight so slowly he has adapted wonderfully on his own. Thank goodness we didn’t listen to the first vet…

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Thanks for sharing your storry, Sonnett. Dogs are highly adaptable creatures and even though they can struggle during their first few months of being blind, they will get by and go on living a happy life.

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