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Don’t Lose Sight: Vision Tests For Dogs

Published on June 20, 2012 by in Health

Imagine waking up one day and finding your life is dark – literally. Your vision is blurred and your eyes have difficulty adjusting to light and dark. How would you feel? How different would your life be? For many people and pets, this is how the beginning stages of blindness feels.

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States1 and while it is estimated that over 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma, only half of them know they have it2.

And humans are not the only ones who can contract this disease. Our dogs are just as susceptible to glaucoma and blindness as we are. That is why it is so important to have regular vision tests done – because while glaucoma is not preventable (as many people often believe) it is treatable if caught early enough.

Besides glaucoma, there are many other causes of canine blindness, such as: cataracts, damage to the eye, inflammation or pressure to the retina or optic nerve, severe corneal disease or trauma, sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS), and uveitis.

There are also certain dog breeds that are naturally inclined to suffer from blindness which include the:

  • Bassett Hound
  • Beagle
  • Bouvier des Flandres
  • Chihuahua
  • Chow Chow
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Dachshund
  • Dalmatian
  • German Shepherd Dog
  • Great Dane
  • Malamute
  • Poodles (mini, toy, standard)
  • Shar-Pei
  • Shih Tzu
  • Siberian Husky
  • Spaniels (various breeds)
  • Terriers (various breeds)

Signs And Symptoms Of Blindness

While some dogs may experience sudden blindness, it is far more common for blindness to develop over time.

Here are some signs to watch out for in your dog:

  • Clumsiness and bumping into things.
  • Disorientation, confusion or fear – especially in new and unfamiliar places.
  • Hesitancy to jump due to impaired depth perception.
  • Difficulty finding common things such as food and water bowls, toys, bed, etc.
  • Walking cautiously, with nose to the ground.
  • Disinterest in playing and going outside.
  • Appears lethargic and depressed.
  • Sleeps more than usual.

If you begin to notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms, it is a good idea to create a written record of the occurrence. Document the date, time and duration of each occurrence as well as a detailed description of the behaviors you’re seeing. If the symptoms become more apparent or if you suspect the condition is getting worse, it’s time to take your dog to the vet for a proper diagnosis.

Other physical signs of blindness include redness or blood in the eyes, dilated pupils, cloudiness in the eyes, and damage to the eye or surrounding areas.

Diagnosing & Treating Dog Blindness

The best way to determine if your pet is experiencing blindness is to have your veterinarian conduct a vision test on your dog.

The first thing your veterinarian will do is a complete physical examination. This is similar to your pet’s annual check-up with a few notable differences. First, your vet will want to do some blood tests and a urinalysis to determine your pet’s overall health as well as rule out things like canine diabetes and hypertension (both of which can cause blindness).

Then there is the vision test.

There are various forms of vision tests that a veterinarian could conduct. They may exam the dilation rate of your pet’s eyes when exposed to light and darkness. Another vision test method is called the “cotton ball test” which is pretty simple in that your vet will drop a cotton ball right at the edge of your dog’s field of vision to see if they react. Finally there is the “menace response” or blink test which basically observes whether your dog blinks in reaction to an object moving towards him quickly. In this test, the eyes are checked separately to determine whether one eye is weaker than the other.

Once your veterinarian determines the cause of your dog’s blindness, they will discuss with you the various treatment options available. Some standard treatment methods include medicated eye drops, therapy, steroids, or surgery.

There have also been quite a few medical discoveries in both human and canine ophthalmology over the years that have improved the possibilities in treating our pets for blindness. In 2007, a research team from Iowa State University, led by Dr. Sinisa Grozdanic discovered that an experimental treatment using intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) was able to treat and reverse blindness in two dogs that suffered from SARDS3. Intravenous immunoglobulin is a human blood product that contains antibodies from the plasma of thousands of blood donors. It is used to treat immune deficiencies, inflammatory diseases and autoimmune diseases.

Of course there are also some natural alternatives out there that are recommended for preventing and treating canine blindness. Here are some quick tips:

Tip #1: Good nutrition is the first step to preventing diabetes in your pet, which can cause cataracts and other health problems later in life. That is why the first recommendation is always to feed a natural, raw food diet that is free of grains, artificial ingredients and preservatives. A living raw food diet is a diet rich in antioxidants, which helps to slow the development of eye disease and degeneration.

Tip #2: Supplements can be added to your daily diet regimen to help support eye health. Vitamin C, Vitamin E and bilberries have been known to slow the development of cataracts in people and pets.

Tip #3: Speak with your holistic veterinarian about other natural treatment options for your pet. Holistic vet, Dr. Karen Becker says, “There are also nutraceutical eye drops and Chinese herbs that have shown good success in reducing how quickly lens degeneration occurs. Those products can be prescribed by your holistic vet based on your pet’s specific eye changes.”

For more information about canine blindness, visit the American College of Veterinary Ophtamologists website at www.acvo.org.


1: American Optometric Association, www.aoa.org, 2008 2: The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, Arch Ophthalmol. 2004 3: Iowa State University (2007, May 31). Blind Dogs Can See After New Treatment For A Sudden Onset Blinding Disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2007/05/070531094241.htm

Amber Keiper is the Marketing Coordinator and Raw Diet Educator for BARF World Inc. She and her husband have two former rescue animals that are now healthy and proud “BARF brats” – a terrier mix named Chewbacca (“Chewy”) and a tabby mix named Chiquita (“Chiqui”). For more articles like these and to learn more about the benefits of raw food for your pets, sign up for The Intelligent Pet monthly e-zine at www.barfworld.com.

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