A question that is often asked, especially as our dogs grow older and seem to stumble about is “Is my dog going blind?” It’s a question that is often born out of confusion. In one moment, their eyes seem to follow our movements without any problem. However, the next moment they don’t seem to recognize the hand signals we use to direct their movement (stay, stop, sit, etc.).
Whether or not our dog was losing his eyesight was often an issue of disagreement in our household. For example, I’d say “Paul’s eyesight is getting bad.” My husband would say “Nonsense! Look at him running from room-to-room. He knows where he’s going.” And yes! My husband was right! But it’s important to know that dogs can have incredibly great memories. This means that they could still be losing their eyesight even though they can maneuver themselves through their surroundings without any trouble.
SO, HOW CAN I TELL?
Well to be certain, I always recommend a visit to your veterinarian. But there are several things to watch for to help you know if you’re imagining things or not. Moreover, the things you observe will also be very helpful for the doctor to know in order to make a correct diagnosis.
With Paul, it began gradually. For example, he didn’t immediately notice his cat-friend walking nearby when we were on our walks. At this time, his hearing was also diminishing. So, we couldn’t be sure if his behavior was a due to a loss of eyesight or hearing. But soon, other signs arose. He couldn’t recognize the precise location of a treat being held in my hand in front of his face. He would sniff about the air until he could determine its exact location. Later, he often seemed apprehensive when taking his nighttime walk. He also startled very easily when he’d notice movement or changes within his range of sight.
Of course, there are other signs that your dog may be losing his sight. For example:
- Your dog often rub’s his/her eyes
- Discharge from the eyes
- Colliding with objects or walls
- Moving differently, especially when jumping
- Not as adventurous as before — avoids new directions when going for walks
- Eyes have a blue or white cloudiness to them
If you’re still asking the question “Is my dog going blind,” you could also perform a couple of “tests.” For example:
- Place a (non-dangerous) obstacle in your dog’s path.
You could move a piece of furniture in your home that would force your dog to take a different path as normal. Now notice if he or she seems confused, or worse, actually collides with the furniture. Here’s another:
- Drop something small and without scent in front of your dog
In fact, this is a “test” your veterinarian might also perform. So why not try it yourself? Just choose something small and without scent (often a cottonball), and drop it in front of your dog. Does your dog react?
ABOUT THAT “CLOUDINESS” YOU SEE …
There are several reasons for loss of eyesight in dogs and it’s important to know what the reason is in order to give proper treatment. For example, you may have noticed a kind of cloudiness in your dog’s eyes. This is usually one of two things; lenticular sclerosis or cataracts.
Lenticular Sclerosis: Otherwise known as “nuclear sclerosis,” it:
- often develops gradually in both eyes at the same time
- occurs with age (but not always)
- eyes will take on a cloudy blue color
It doesn’t generally impair your dog’s vision the way cataracts do. However, it does make it difficult for your dog’s eyes to focus. Therefore, you could notice your dog being startled when something crosses his path as he has difficulty focusing on it.
Finally, dogs who have lenticular sclerosis often develop cataracts later. Therefore, it is a good idea for him to be seen by a veterinarian.
Cataracts: Cataracts can be difficult to identify in their early stages. However, as they progress (grow) they become more noticeable. Unlike lenticular sclerosis, cataracts will gradually block your dog’s vision.
Sometimes, surgery is an option for cataracts. Otherwise, your doctor can advise you on dietary changes that might slow down their progression depending on the cause. People often think that cataracts are due to old age. However, they can have other causes. For example, Cushing’s disease or Diabetes — which both require treatment from a veterinarian. Some things to look for:
- usually develops in one eye first
- are white and opaque
OKAY, I THINK MY DOG IS GOING BLIND. NOW WHAT?
It should go without saying, but your next step should be a visit to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can diagnose the reason behind his vision problems and recommend the best treatment and/or lifestyle changes to make your dog more comfortable.
In our case, Paul’s vision problems are due to his advanced age and lenticular sclerosis. However, cataracts appear to be growing now and his vision is slowly becomming worse. Although there is nothing to be done medically in Paul’s situation, we have adapted to his impairment where we can, and he’s living a full and happy life. Some of the changes we’ve made:
- ALWAYS think ahead! Imagine if you were blind and the difficulties you might face. Then behave accordingly to help you buddy.
- We walk slowly with him when outside, allowing him to sniff and become comfortable
- We walk slightly behind him to avoid shadows which can startle him
- We ALWAYS use a lead when walking him in unfamiliar places and places where there are other people and dogs
- When walking outdoors, we (usually) walk the other way when unfamiliar dogs approach
- We don’t move our furniture in the rooms he uses (this is every room for Paul)
- We avoid quick or startled movements when Paul is near us
- He receives a vitamin E supplement
Please remember that dogs can become depressed as their eyesight diminishes. Therefore, it’s important to keep your dog active and interested in life while maintaining the lifestyle changes/adaptations mentioned above. For example, discover new walking paths together. This invites your dog to actively use his/her sense of smell to learn about the new environment. The same holds true with introducing him to people you know and trust. Let your dog get to know them too, but make sure you let people know how to behave around your dog so as not to startle him. Finally, make sure to give plenty of soft cuddles, caresses and reassurance to your dog.
With these lifestyle changes, you can be assured that your giving your dog the best life possible.
If you enjoyed this article or have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments or questions below.