If your dog has diabetes and you suspect any loss of vision or blindness, it’s important to see a vet as soon as possible. The changes in the eye caused by high blood-sugar levels can be reduced once the diabetes is controlled. Factors such as obesity, diet and other conditions can increase the risk of diabetes and cataracts, so it’s important to get these factors under control. Sadly, many dogs with diabetes will develop cataracts, but the good news is they usually adapt well and surgery may be possible to restore vision.
Why has my dog with diabetes gone blind?
Dogs with diabetes are at increased risk of developing cataracts; where the lens in the eye becomes cloudy and stops light entering the eye. This is because the high sugar levels in a diabetic dog’s blood can affect the structure of the lens and cause it to become opaque. This can happen rapidly or more slowly over a period of weeks and months.
What are the reasons for loss of vision and blindness in a dog?
In addition to diabetic cataracts there is a wide variety of causes of blindness in dogs. Blindness can be caused due to loss of transparency of the cornea or lens; such as cataracts or trauma. Swelling of the eye (glaucoma) can also affect vision. There are also diseases that affect the signals to the brain, such as damage or disease to the optic nerve, or toxins such as lead. Blindness can also be congenital (inherited), such as progressive retinal atrophy, which can affect many breeds, where the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye deteriorate within the first few years of life.
Some causes of blindness can be slow and gradual in onset. Others can be very rapid or immediate, and may also be painful. It may be possible to reduce or reverse some types of blindness or reduced vision, so speak to a vet as soon as possible if you suspect your dog is going blind.
How can I help a diabetic and blind dog?
If your dog is diabetic and has gone blind, it’s very important to get their diabetes under control to reduce the risk of further organ damage. There may be additional factors affecting diabetic control – even in dogs who have been stable for some time – such as infection or hormone changes.
For a dog that has reduced vision or is blind, they are still able to learn and remember a familiar environment, such as your home. To reduce the risk of them bumping into things, try not to move furniture around or put obstacles, such as bags, in their path. Remove any hazards, such as objects with sharp corners. It can help to put a different textured mat or surface by any steps in the house, to give your dog a touch clue for when they have to jump up or down. Keep their food and water in the same place, and give a sound cue, such as ringing a bell, when you’re about to feed them.
Some dogs who lose vision can also lose confidence and become anxious or clingy. They may be more likely to act in defence, as they can feel more vulnerable. Give them plenty of reassurance with calm language, and make sure you speak to your dog before touching, so you don’t startle them.
When you are out and about, always keep them on a lead and stick to a few familiar routes, so they learn their way around the terrain. You can teach them new directional commands, such as ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘down’ and ‘up’ to avoid obstacles. It can also help to give them a verbal warning of someone approaching, such as ‘someone’s coming’.
Can you stop cataracts developing in a diabetic dog?
Controlling the blood sugar levels is key to reducing the development of cataracts in a diabetic dog. It may take some time to control diabetes in dogs, as there can be many complicating factors. It’s important to keep the routine that you take on – including feeding, exercise and insulin – as regular as possible to reduce the risk of blood sugar highs and lows.
Once the blood glucose levels are under control, it is possible to operate on diabetic dogs with mature cataracts to restore their vision. Even if surgery is not possible, most dogs will be able to adapt to living without vision. A dog's senses of smell and hearing are very well developed and they can still live a happy, sense-filled life.
When should I see a vet?
If your dog it diabetic, they should be having regular appointments with a vet. If you suspect your dog’s vision is affected between routine checks, contact the vet straight away, as they may need to see your dog sooner. If your dog is not diabetic but has reduced vision, it’s also important to have them checked. Some causes of vision loss can be reversible if treated early enough.