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5 Leading Causes of Pet Vision Loss

Caring for a pet with vision loss and sudden blindness is scary for both you and your best friend. The most important thing you can do is educate yourself on the underlying causes of your pet’s changing vision, help them adapt to a life with limited eyesight, and learn how to help your dog live without sight. 

Signs of Pet Blindness

Depending on what caused your dog’s vision loss, they may have lost their vision overnight or had their vision diminish slowly over time. Understanding the signs of pet blindness can help you to notice the clinical signs much earlier. The most common signs your dog’s eyesight is changing include:

Halo for pets with vision loss
  • Bumping into furniture, hitting their head on the wall, or struggling to navigate the house
  • Reluctance to jump off furniture 
  • Hesitancy to go down the stairs, especially when the lights are off
  • Unable to find a toy or ball when it’s thrown, or being completely unaware when you throw a toy
  • Startled in bright light
  • Excessive thirst or more frequent urination
  • Cloudy eyes

Any pet experiencing one or more of these symptoms should be examined by their veterinarian immediately. The earlier your pet’s vision loss is detected, the more treatable it can be and the better you can help them adapt. 

5 Causes of Vision Loss in Dogs & Cats

Many different eye conditions can cause a change in your pet’s vision. Therefore, how your pet’s vision loss is treated depends on their eye condition. The most common causes of sudden vision loss in pets include:

1. SARDS or Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration

SARDS is a degenerative eye condition that comes on quickly and can result in complete blindness. Most pets with SARDS will be completely blind within 24 hours to a month of diagnosis. 

SARDS Symptoms

  • Sudden blindness
  • Eye irritation or infrequent blinking
  • Pupil dilation
  • Little to no response to light
  • Increased thirst and appetite (with noticeable weight gain)

Dog Breeds at Risk for SARDS

Most often occurring in female dogs, most dogs diagnosed with SARDS are between the ages of 6 to 14 years old. Breeds most commonly affected by SARDS are:

  • Beagle
  • Dachshund
  • Schnauzer
  • Pug
  • Brittany Spaniel
  • Maltese

SARDS causes irreversible vision loss. Although there is no cure for canine SARDS, it will not affect a dog’s life expectancy. In a clinical study of dogs with SARDS 95% of the pet parents surveyed believed that their dog had a good quality of life and would discourage euthanasia due to a SARDS diagnosis. Although a pet with SARDS will be blind for the rest of its life, it will live an otherwise happy and healthy life.

Before & After a Blind Dog with SARDS Tries a Halo

2. Glaucoma

This painful eye condition generally occurs in one eye first. Glaucoma is a painful build-up of eye pressure that kills and damages retinal cells and optic nerve. Eventually, the pressure will lead to canine vision loss.

Glaucoma Symptoms in Dogs

  • Swollen eyes, eyes may appear to bulge outwards
  • Signs of eye pain, including rubbing or digging at eyes
  • Pet avoids having head touched
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Lethargy

Dog Breeds Prone to Glaucoma

Abraham is wearing a Walkin' Pets Halo for blind dogs
  • Boston Terrier
  • Basset Hound
  • Shar-pei
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Siberian Husky
  • Labrador Retriever

When caught early, a dog can recover, however most pet parents miss the clinical signs of glaucoma until it’s too late to relieve the eye pressure. Only 50% of dogs who receive medical care will regain their eyesight

3. Progressive Retinal Atrophy or PRA

An inherited condition, PRA causes retina deterioration and blindness in dogs. PRA is not a painful eye condition. However, it does impact both eyes.  Most dogs with progressive retinal atrophy will lose their eyesight slowly, usually over months or years.  

Signs of Progressive Retinal Atrophy

  • Difficulty navigating in dim lighting
  • Dilated pupils and slow response to light
  • Reluctance to go outside at night and loss of night vision
  • Eye cloudiness
  • Bumping into walls, doors, and furniture

Dog Breeds Impacted by PRA

  • Miniature and toy Poodles
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Cavalier Kind Charles Spaniel
  • Miniature Schnauzer

Gradual vision loss will allow a dog to adjust to their changing eyesight and its impact on its life. Unfortunately, this progressive condition is irreversible, and there is no cure for PRA. However, medication can slow down the loss of vision.

4. Canine Cataracts

When you think of a blind dog, you likely think of cloudy eyes. Cataracts are characterized by eye cloudiness behind the dog’s eye lens. As the lens clouds over, it blocks light from reaching a dog’s retina and preventing them from seeing.  A dog may have cataracts in one or both eyes, and a cataract can seem to appear overnight. 

Clinical Signs of Cataracts in Dogs

  • Cloudy eye 
  • Changes in eye color or shape of pupil
  • A haze over one of both eyes

Dog Breeds with Cataracts

blind dog halo for large dogs
  • Boston Terrier
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Poodle
  • Husky
  • French Bulldog

It’s important to note that dogs with diabetes are at high risk for cataracts regardless of breed. Most diabetic dogs will have cataracts within a year of becoming a diabetic. Not only are dogs with diabetes likely to have cataracts, but they will also develop very quickly. It is possible to have canine cataracts removed through surgery. Work with your veterinarian to determine if your dog is a candidate for cataract surgery.

5. Retinal Detachment

Sudden retinal detachment is the leading cause of blindness in cats but can also occur in dogs. Retinal detachment most often occurs from trauma but can also happen when a pet has high blood pressure.  Partial reattachment may be possible if the pet’s blood pressure is quickly controlled by medication and brought back to normal levels. 

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