The possibility of eye problems in dogs is naturally a concern, so let’s have a look at what we can do in terms of prevention, help or treatment.
Let me begin by saying eye problems in dogs is not inevitable, which is very good news. Vision loss and eye problems can occur, so if eye exams are not part of your dog’s health checks, they should be. It’s always easier to treat a problem when caught early.
Dogs are pretty good at hiding pain, but if you’re in tune to changes in your dog and his behaviour (as we all should be), you’ll notice when something isn’t “quite right.” I recommend a visit to your vet as soon as possible, especially if you share your life with a senior dog. Things can happen quickly, so it’s best not to adopt a “wait and see” attitude.
Signs your dog may have eye problems
- Walks on objects or surfaces he would normally avoid
- Rubs his face on the ground
- Eyes are bulging
- Cloudy eyes
- Stepping high – like he’s unsure when walking
- Closed eyes
- Bumps into walls, furniture
- Can’t catch toys you throw at him
- Rubbing his eye
Here’s an easy experiment to do at home
Move a couple of pieces of furniture, turn off the lights, and watch how your dog gets around. Does he know where he’s going, or is he bumping into things? Now turn the lights back on and watch again. If he’s completely blind, you see the same results. If he has some vision, he’ll perform better in the light.
Now take him to the vet, or straight to the eye doctor.
Conditions that may affect your senior dog’s eyes
Nuclear Sclerosis or Lenticular Sclerosis
Have you ever looked into a dog’s eyes and noticed they appeared cloudy, a bluish haze? Although many people assume that’s cataracts, most of the time, it isn’t.
What is it?
- Result of age related changes to the lens
- Often seen in dogs over 7 years old
- Usually develops in both eyes at the same time
- Isn’t painful
How does it happen?
The lens, which cannot expand, is made up of clear fibre cells that constantly grow. In young dogs the lens is clear, because there is plenty of room for new cells. As a dog ages, the new cells push the old ones towards the centre of the lens, hardening it and causing it to cloud over.
Living with it
Doesn’t affect vision in any significant way, although your dog may find it a little difficult to see things close to them. All in all, your dog should get along fine.
Like Nuclear Sclerosis, cataracts cause cloudiness, but unlike it, cataracts affect vision. Thankfully, it is not a painful condition.
How does it happen?
Changes start in the centre of the lens, then move outwards. Vision suffers as the lens becomes more and more opaque. Cataracts due to age tend to develop in both eyes, but may progress at
Cataracts can develop as the result of trauma, infection, diabetes, or hypothyroidism – low thyroid function. Inherited conditions are the most common cause.
When does it usually happen?
Cataracts generally first show up at 6-8 years of age, but can be found in very young dogs as well.
A check up is needed for confirmation.
The only real treatment is surgery, but not if cataracts are the result of a secondary disease like diabetes.
By the time many pet parents notice, a large portion of the eye will have been affected.
To avoid cataracts caused by diabetes, keep your dog at an ideal weight. Overweight dogs are at risk of developing this disease. Having said that, diabetes can strike dogs of any size.
Simply put, Glaucoma is pressure caused by a buildup of fluid in the eye. Left untreated, the optic nerve and retina are damaged beyond repair, leading to partial or total loss of vision.
Glaucoma is quite a painful condition, and the most common cause of blindness in dogs. If this condition goes untreated for even 48 hours, it may be too late to save the sight in that eye, and when one eye has it, the other usually gets it. A common symptom is the sudden development of a red, painful eye.
There are two types of Glaucoma – Primary and Secondary
The fluid is not able to drain through the filtration angles of the eye, and is genetics based.
I read this very sobering statistic, once again emphasising the need to act quickly. Over 50% of dogs with primary glaucoma will develop complications in their unaffected eye within about 8 months.
- Cloudiness in the eye
- Eye is shrinking into the head
- Redness of the blood vessels in the whites of the eyes
- Bulging eyes
- Obvious sight loss
This occurs after some other eye problem – trauma, slipping of the lens, inflammation, injury that caused blood to collect in the front of the eye…
- High pressure in the eye
- Redness of the blood vessels in the whites of eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Not interested in playing
- Constriction of the pupil
Go to the eye doctor!
It’s entirely possible your vet has all the equipment needed to diagnose glaucoma, and medications to treat it, and he may be fully qualified to perform as an eye doctor, I can’t speak to that. However in my case when we adopted Red who was blind, we went straight to a specialist. Our vet was wonderful, but going to him first would have wasted time, and in some cases that extra time could impact the outcome.
Depending on the condition of the eyes, and the test results, your vet/eye doctor will discuss with you the options available. It could involve drugs, draining fluid, surgery, possible removal of your dog’s eyes.
Prosthetic eyes could replace the damaged ones, or the eyelids sutured shut. I know it sounds gruesome, but I have been assured by the eye doctor we went to, dogs can live with it.
Eye irritants and other issues
Dust, sand, and other foreign bodies affect dogs of any age. If you notice your dog blinking a lot, tearing, rubbing his eyes, unable to open his eye(s), call your vet (or eye doctor) right away. Ask what you can do immediately at home, then get him down there as soon as possible. It doesn’t take long for a minor issue to affect vision.
If your dog goes blind gradually, you might not even realise it for quite some time. They know their homes and territory so well, they don’t seem to struggle. Other senses become more acute, and they adapt rather well.
Of course if a dog goes blind suddenly, it can be very scary for the dog, and sad for everyone. It will take you and the dog time to adjust but you will.
In my dog Red’s case, her eyes were literally bulging out of her head when we adopted her. It was the pressure building up due to glaucoma, because her condition was obviously ignored for so long. Her blindness was permanent, and immediate action was required. Her condition was so severe, her eyes would have blown out of their sockets had we waited much longer.
Whoever she lived with previously, obviously neglected her terribly.
The pressure was relieved by inserted a needle into each eye – I don’t recall the name of the procedure – and her eyes began to get smaller almost immediately. Poor baby I can’t imagine how much pain she must have been in.
How to keep your visually impaired/blind dog safe
- Keep him leashed in unfamiliar surroundings to prevent injury
- If you have stairs, put a gate at the top and bottom, and keep telling everyone who lives with you to keep them closed
- Never let him off a leash outside unless he’s in a fenced in area
- Be mindful of things left on the floor that he can trip over – shoes, bags, toys…
It’s my hope you enjoyed this article – maybe enjoyed isn’t the right word – let’s say found it helpful. Please, any doubts or concerns about anything, especially eye problems in dogs, see your vet, or an eye doctor immediately.
Do you share your life with a blind dog? Was she born blind, blind when you rescued her or something that developed as a result of illness or injury? How have you managed, and what have you found works well in your home? Sharing your stories helps others.