Dog turning blind

If your dog is going blind, keep them on a lead on walks.

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How to tell if your dog is going blind

By Dr. Liz Barton MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Suddenly bumping into furniture a lot or regularly being startled when stroked are just two signs that your dog may be going blind.

If your dog sadly goes blind suddenly, you may notice them very reluctant to move and bumping into things when they do. They may stumble over steps and be very slow and cautious moving around. If they are slowly losing their sight, they can adapt and learn their surroundings – increasingly using smell and touch to tell where they are. It may be harder to notice vision loss in dogs if it happens gradually. Your dog may be more cautious when out on walks, and bump into new or moved items in the home.

What signs are there that a dog may be going blind?

For a dog that has reduced vision or is blind, you may notice them bumping into things. Yet they may remember the layout of a familiar environment, such as your home, so it may be more obvious when they are out and about. They might even have trouble locating a treat or their food or water bowl if it’s moved around. Keep everything in a set place for a blind dog, so they learn where to find it.

Some dogs who lose vision can also lose confidence jumping up and down from furniture or over door jams or steps. They may even become anxious or clingy, and are 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.

What are the causes of vision loss in dogs?

There are many causes of vision loss 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. Another cause is diseases that affect the signals to the brain, such as damage or disease to the optic nerve, tumours or toxins such as lead. Blindness can also be congenital (inherited), such as progressive retinal atrophy, which can affect many breeds; this is when the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye deteriorate, usually 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 – speak to a vet as soon as possible if you suspect your dog is going blind.

What are the symptoms of vision loss in dogs?

There are many different symptoms to tell if your dog is losing their vision and they can include:

  • Changes in the appearance of the eye – e.g. cloudy; red; the pupils may be either fully dilated or pinpoint; there may be discharge; or your dog may be blinking a lot.
  • Bumping into things or people.
  • Nervousness or clingy behaviour.
  • Slow, cautious movement.
  • Reluctance to jump, or to go down or over steps.
  • Confusion.
  • Being startled when stroked.
  • Being unable to find toys, food bowls and treats.
  • Getting lost outside.

Diagnosis of the cause will involve a close examination by a vet of the eye with an ophthalmoscope. The vet may also place drops in the eye to show up any scratches to the surface. A blood sample may be required to check for diabetes.

What blindness tests are there for dogs?

Home tests for dogs with blindness include looking into the eye for signs of cloudiness, change in size and shape of the pupil, discharge, or material within the eye. You can check to see if your dog can follow a moving object with their eyes: throw a ball up in the air or roll it along the floor – their gaze should follow. You can also set up an obstacle course – choose soft obstacles and see if your dog can move safely around them. Try in different levels of light – it’s harder to see clearly in lower ambient light, so you may be able to pick up mild vision loss more easily.

A vet eye exam with an ophthalmoscope will give more information about which part of the visual system is affected, the causes and what treatment is appropriate.

Is my dog going blind from diabetes?

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. Your dog may also be showing other signs of diabetes, including excessive drinking and urinating, and weight loss.

What do I do if my dog is going blind?

If you think your dog has vision problems, it is best to see a vet as soon as possible. The vet will be able to check your dog’s eyes for cloudiness, infection, damage and responsiveness to light. If you suspect your dog has reduced vision, it’s important to have them checked. Some causes of vision loss can be reversible if treated early enough.

To reduce the risk of your dog bumping into things, try not to move furniture around or put obstacles, such as bags or furniture, in their path. Remove any hazards, such as objects with sharp corners. Give them calm reassurance and audible signals when you’re approaching them. Keep food and water bowls in the same place. Keep your dog on a lead on walks and use verbal commands to warn them about approaching hazards, such as curbs or people passing.

When should I talk to a vet?

If you suspect your dog has reduced vision, it’s important to have them checked by a vet. Some causes of vision loss can be reversible if treated early enough. Some conditions affecting the eye can be painful, such as glaucoma or uveitis (inflammation) and your dog may need painkillers. The cause may also be linked to underlying problems, such as diabetes or cancer.

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