We once boarded and trained a puppy who was almost entirely blind. Born with detached retinas, she was 100% blind in the left eye and about 50% blind in the right. Dogs with some level of blindness are often anxious. But this puppy had a wonderful temperament. She loved other dogs, and she loved people who talked to her. She had a great desire to please.
Blindness in dogs is caused by several possible illnesses or injuries. There are a variety of symptoms to watch for. In some cases, early detection can save some or all of your dog’s eyesight.
Here is an overview of signs that your dog’s sight may be affected and some things you can do to treat the cause or help your dog adjust to blindness. The good news is that, with their strong senses of hearing and smell, dogs tend to acclimate to blindness quickly.
Realizing that your dog is going blind can feel devastating. But if the worst does happen, know there are so many things you can do to still give them a happy, fulfilling life.
Diagnosing the Types of Blindness in Dogs
Dogs experience one of three types of blindness — complete, intermittent, or partial.
- Complete blindness: The dog has no sight at all, not even light. This may be the end of a very gradual process, where the sight fades over an extended period of time.
- Intermittent blindness: The dog experiences blindness for brief periods of time. It’s like the blindness has an on-off switch, and there is no set schedule; it happens randomly.
- Partial blindness: The dog’s vision is cloudy, but they can still see bright light and general shapes. Partial blindness also translates into blindness in one eye only.
Getting a Diagnosis
It’s imperative to take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible after you realize something may be wrong. Yes, this can be pretty scary. But the earlier the diagnosis, the better the chance for a more favorable outcome.
Your veterinary ophthalmologist will give the dog a complete examination, not just examine your dog’s eyes. This is because blindness can be an indicator of a broader medical issue.
A Couple of Quick Tests
To evaluate dog vision specifically, here are two simple tests you can try at home:
- Menace reflex test: Put your hand about a foot and a half away from your dog’s face. Move it rapidly to about three inches away. A dog with normal vision will blink or move their head.
- Cotton ball test: Hold a cotton ball before your dog, then throw it to see if they react.
If you suspect a problem, get your dog to the vet immediately.
What Causes Blindness in Dogs?
There are several possible causes of blindness in dogs. Often there is an illness of which blindness is only a symptom. It may also be caused by injury or genetic issues.
Common causes of blindness in dogs include:
- Diabetes: Dogs diagnosed with diabetes frequently develop cataracts within months, causing partial or complete blindness. About 10% of dogs are diabetic. Those most at risk are older, female, or obese.
- Glaucoma: An excess of fluid in the eye damages the retina, leading to blindness. The eyes may show discharge or look irritated. Medication can help if diagnosed early.
- Age: A dog’s eyesight can weaken simply due to old age and accompanying medical problems. They may be afraid of new places or start bumping into things at home.
- Cataracts: This cloudy film inside the eye blocks clear vision.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This genetic disease weakens the retina. Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Rottweilers are among the dog breeds prone to this condition.
- Corneal ulcer: Eye injuries can cause a fluid buildup that irritates the eye.
- Tumor: A tumor in or near the eye can block vision and damage the eye.
- Suddenly Acquired Retinal Degeneration (SARDS): This condition damages the retina. Breeds most vulnerable include Dachshunds, Pugs, and Cocker Spaniels.
- Head injury: The nerves between the brain and eyes or the eyes themselves may be damaged.
- High blood pressure: The added pressure can damage the retina.
- Chronic dry eye: A lack of adequate lubrication can irritate the eye and produce thick mucus that blocks vision.
Signs of Potential Blindness To Watch For
Our Little Dog’s Blindness
Remember the little partially blind dog we mentioned earlier? We had a ball on a rope and let it swing back and forth in front of her. We got nothing; she seemed to be staring off into space. Then all of a sudden, she found the ball. Our little dog was following shadows and shapes. She sometimes tracked other nearby dogs, turning her head in their direction and following their sounds.
Signs of Possible Vision Problems
There are early signs of vision problems, like stumbling over or running into things. Maybe the dog hesitates to jump on the sofa because their depth perception isn’t working well. They may also hesitate to walk into a new or especially dark place. They may no longer look you directly in your eyes or at an object you’re holding in front of them.
Additional symptoms to watch for include fear of moving, inability to find their things, confusion, eyes that look cloudy or otherwise abnormal, being easily startled, and anxiety. Your dog may even seem depressed.
Treating Your Dog’s Vision Loss
Depending on the cause and extent of vision impairment, there may be medications that can help your dog retain at least some of their eyesight. These medications may treat the cause or the eyes directly. For example, treating high blood pressure can ease the pressure on the retina and either wholly or partially alleviate the problem.
The vet may also decide that a special diet, surgery, eye drops, or a combination of these approaches is the best treatment.
How to Make a Blind Dog’s Life Easier
While the vet is handling the medical issues, there is plenty for you to do to help your dog cope with blindness. Remember that dogs have particularly keen senses of hearing and smell. Use this. They will naturally rely on them to compensate for lost vision.
Buy some small jingle bells. During walks, these can help the dog track where they are in relation to you. For other pets in the home, add bells or noisy metal tags to their collars.
Talk to the dog as much as possible. Your voice will be a great comfort and prevent startling when you approach your dog. Teach verbal directional commands, such as “left,” “right,” and “stop.”
Use scents to tag important spots in the house. Play scent-related games for mental stimulation and exercise. Scent training can be very helpful, as the dog will begin relying more on other senses anyway.
Keep Things in Their Places
If you don’t move things around, your dog can compensate for vision loss by memorizing where things are, especially their food bowl, toys, and bed, and they can avoid bumping into things. Give your dog a safe space filled with comfortable blankets and toys so they will have something familiar and can rest when needed.
The K9 Basics Dog Trainers Can Help!
Knowing that your dog is going blind may feel overwhelming. It can be hard to figure out how best to help your dog adjust to a life of blindness.
Our talented trainers at K9 Basics are here to help you. We will teach your dog new commands to help them with vision loss. And we will have plenty of advice for you. Your home will be safe, and both you and your dog will adjust to your new reality.
We know this isn’t easy, but remember that your dog can still play and run and have a great time. Our little dog with the limited eyesight loves to play with other dogs. She’s just as happy as any other dog!
It’ll take some extra steps on your part, but you can give a blind dog a happy life. Contact us for an appointment. We will happily help you create that life for you and your dog!
Give us a call at (866) 592-2742 or, if you’re from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, or New York, visit us at 131 Kenilworth Road, Marlton, New Jersey 08053, to learn more about our dog training services. Also, browse our blog and social media for various topics about dogs and their lives with us!
- Kate Eldredge Basedow, LVT, and Faith Brar. “How to Tell If Your Dog Is Going Blind.” Daily Paws, Daily Paws, 9 Feb. 2021, www.dailypaws.com/dogs-puppies/health-care/dog-conditions/how-to-tell-if-your-dog-is-going-blind?amp=true. Accessed 26 Apr. 2023.
- Wieczorek, Dr. Elizabeth. “Dog Blindness: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment.” Dutch, Dutch, 21 Dec. 2021, www.dutch.com/blogs/dogs/dog-is-blind#treating. Accessed 26 Apr. 2023.
- Hollinger, Hannah. “Blindness in Dogs.” Signs, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost, Wag!, wagwalking.com/condition/blindness. Accessed 26 Apr. 2023.
- Debra M. Eldredge, DVM. “How to Tell If Your Dog Is Going Blind.” Whole Dog Journal, 16 Nov. 2022, www.whole-dog-journal.com/health/how-to-tell-if-your-dog-is-going-blind/.