Dog eyesight problems like cataracts, atrophy, and nuclear sclerosis can cause anxiety and other problems for your pet. The good news is most of these are avoidable, or treatable if you catch them early.
Your pet can develop dog eyesight problems for several reasons, ranging from medical conditions to old age. Cataracts, glaucoma, progressive retinal atrophy, and suddenly acquired retinal degeneration (SARDS) are often-seen causes of blindness in dogs. Certain breeds are particularly susceptible to these conditions, so it’s important to know whether your pet is in the high-risk category and what to watch out for.
One of our dogs, Oliver, is blind, so we’ve had personal experience dealing with this issue. Oliver lost his sight when he developed diabetes-induced cataracts. People told us he would get used to being blind, but we scheduled an appointment with a veterinary ophthalmologist anyway, to see if he was a candidate for cataract surgery. Then Covid-19 hit, and they were only taking emergencies.
I thought to myself, from an ophthalmological point of view what could be more of an emergency that blindness? Well, I asked the question, and they explained that in the current scenario emergencies would be things like injuries to the eyes, infections, eye issues that were causing pain, and so on. And they repeated that dogs acclimate very well to blindness!
Well, by the time the restrictions had been lifted and they were again taking non-emergency appointments, Oliver had indeed acclimated very well, and we decided to forget about putting him through a now-unnecessary surgery.
Some of the signs that your dog might be losing his vision are fairly obvious. If he starts bumping into walls or furniture, or having trouble finding his food or toys, you’ll know right away that there’s a problem. Other indications are less obvious, such as being hesitant to jump off the couch, or needing extra human attention.
These things typically happen when the dog has a new, increased level of anxiety, and starts to have unfounded fears and timidity. Oliver, for example, was very anxious at first and I began giving him Calm & Happy, which made a tremendous difference to his state of mind.
There’s a wide range of conditions that can affect your dog’s eyes, but the signs and symptoms are mostly similar across all of them. Squinting, discomfort, and rubbing at the eyes are all indications that something is wrong. Eye pain can even cause your dog to be lethargic and refuse his food, and if a close look at his eyes shows redness, tears, cloudiness or a discharge, you should get medical attention without delay. A dog with any of these symptoms might be suffering from:
Corneal ulceration, or abrasions on the surface of the eye: This happens most often in senior dogs or those with flat noses and faces. The condition causes squinting and/or pupils that are different sizes from each other, and if it’s untreated, it can eventually result in blindness in dogs.
Dry eye or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS): When your dog produces insufficient tears to lubricate the eyes, it can cause the eye surface to become inflamed. The resulting irritation and redness produce a thick, yellow discharge that requires daily application of special eye drops.
Nuclear sclerosis, which develops when the eye lens hardens: This causes the cloudiness we usually see in elderly senior dogs, and it’s similar to the changes in human eyes that cause us to need reading glasses as we age. This condition only affects the dog’s vision very late in life, and no treatment is available for it.
Cataracts: These look very similar to nuclear sclerosis, but are in fact a different condition. Cataracts in dogs are often an inherited disease, but can also result from injuries to the eye, diseases like diabetes in dogs, or are simply age-related. They do affect your pet’s vision, but can be treated successfully with surgery if your pet is in good health otherwise to handle the procedure.
Detached retina: This happens when the internal lining or retina separates from the back of the dog’s eyeball. It can either be hereditary or caused by glaucoma, high blood pressure, thyroid imbalances or exposure to toxins. The condition can lead to permanent blindness if it’s not treated urgently.
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) or degeneration: PRA is also a hereditary disease, which commonly affects breeds that inherit it from both parents, including:
We often see PRA in Old English Mastiffs and Bull Mastiffs, which only need to inherit it from one parent. In Siberian Huskies and Samoyeds, however, it seems to occur mainly in male dogs.
After your veterinarian examines and evaluates your dog’s eyesight problem, he or she will be in a better position to advise you on treatment options. In some cases, surgery is the best solution, while in other instances things you can do include:
Help your dog to stay active and healthy without overworking, and make sure he gets enough exercise and play through social activities, travel, and new experiences. This will help him cope with the changes brought on by failing eyesight, and keep him happy and well-adjusted into the senior years.