Signs Your Dog Is Going Blind and How to Help

Blindness in dogs can be scary, especially if it happens suddenly, but you can spot it early and manage it with these tips.

Published March 15, 2023
Blind dog seating on owner's lap

If your dog starts to show signs they are losing their vision, a lot of scary thoughts are probably racing through your head. What is going on? How can you help? Why is my dog going blind, and how serious is my dog's condition? Understanding what is happening to your dog will help, and there's a lot you can do for your dog.

Signs Your Dog is Going Blind

If you think your dog is losing their vision, it's important to recognize the signs so that you can get them help quickly. If the condition is not treated promptly, you might miss an opportunity to prevent or treat the cause. It's scary for dogs, too, and they may injure themselves in a panic. In most cases, blindness develops gradually in dogs, and there are markers to help you tell.

  • Watch your dog's eyes: You might see cloudiness, or white spots in their eyes.
  • They're having trouble navigating: Is your dog bumping into objects or walls? Do they not respond to movement?
  • They're startled easily: If you walk up on your dog from the front, and they still don't notice you, there might be a problem.
  • Pay attention if they hesitate: If your dog acts unsure or nervous, or refuses to go up or down stairs, they might have issues with their sight.
  • Look for trembling in their eyes: Dogs with injured eyes often develop eye tremors, which will probably start in one eye first, then spread.
  • Check their head position: A blind dog may hold their head at an angle or tilt their head back when trying to see something up close.
  • Watch their overall movement: Your dog might act confused when you take them outside. If they won't run or play, they may be having problems seeing.

These symptoms are indications that your dog is slowly losing their vision. They don't mean your dog has lost all sight yet, so take them to the vet if you notice two or more of these symptoms. It could be nothing, so don't panic, but get them checked out.

Common Causes of degenerative blindness in dogs include glaucoma, cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, high blood pressure, tumors, and even chronic dry eye. All of these come on slowly. Glaucoma and cataracts are often treatable, as is high blood pressure, but progressive retinal atrophy is not curable, sadly.

Fast Fact

It is also possible for dogs to lose their vision suddenly. This is called acute blindness, and it can be caused by a genetic condition, injury, or a neurological issue.

Spotting Sudden Blindness in Dogs

Sudden blindness in dogs is very frightening. It's especially scary if you don't know what caused it. Symptoms of sudden, acute blindness are different from gradual blindness:

  • Your dog is disoriented.
  • They're acting unusually fearful.
  • They're way more lethargic.
  • They're suddenly bumping into things.
  • They're not responding to visual signals.
  • They're very confused.

If these symptoms develop rapidly, within a day or two, something is going on. You won't see a gradual loss of vision here. Instead, your dog will be way more disoriented, and probably pretty scarred.

Common causes of sudden blindness include physiological and neurological conditions. Some may be treatable, but others may be incurable.

  • Retinal detachment: This can come on suddenly from injury, but health conditions such as glaucoma can also trigger it.
  • Sudden Acquired Retinal degeneration Syndrome: This scary condition happens suddenly, and it often isn't possible to tell why. Is is rapid and irreversible.
  • Inflammation or injury: Both may be treatable and reversible.
  • Progressive diseases you didn't notice before: Your dog might have had glaucoma or cataracts, but it wasn't obvious until they lost their vision.

How to Test Your Dog's Vision

There are three useful tests you can use to help figure out if your dog is having problems with their eyesight.

Menace Reflex Test: Make your hand flat like paper, and place it 18 inches from your dog's face with your palm facing them. Quickly move your hand to within 3 inches of their face. If they don't react, blink, or turn their head, they might be losing their vision.

Use a light: Shine a flashlight or pen light into your dog's retina. If you see their pupils dilate, that's a good sign. If you don't see their pupils become really tiny, your dog may not be perceiving the light.

Thrown Object Test: Pick a very soft, light object like a cotton ball or wadded up piece of paper. Drop it from above your dog's head, directly in their line of sight. Make sure it doesn't make noise. If they don't react, they might not be able to see it.

Strokes Can Cause Sudden Vision Loss

If your dog suddenly loses vision, they may be having a stroke. Strokes in dogs are rare, but they do occur. The most common type of stroke in dogs is called a vertebral artery occlusion, or VEA, which occurs when a clot blocks blood flow through one of the arteries that supplies blood to the back of the brain.

The signs of a VEA include:

  • Loss of vision in one eye
  • Walking into things and bumping into furniture
  • Lethargy or weakness, especially on one side of the body
  • Drooping eyelids and pupil size changes

Toxins That Can Cause Blindness

There are many toxins that can cause blindness in dogs. Some of the most common toxins that cause blindness in dogs include:

  • Certain mushroom species
  • Mold
  • Insecticides and pesticides
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Lead poisoning
  • Ammonia
  • Cleaning products, such as bleach
  • Rat poison
  • Paint fumes and solvents

Breeds Prone to Blindness

A dog's breed can indicate their risk of developing blindness. Dogs with short noses are more likely to develop eye problems than those with long ones. For example, pugs have what's called brachycephalic airway syndrome, which means that their nasal passages are shorter than other dogs' and their eyes tend to be pushed closer together. These anatomical differences can cause a host of health issues, including eye disease.

Breeds like Collies, Beagles, and Cocker Spaniels are also prone to eye problems because they have very large or bulging eyes that can easily get damaged by trauma or disease.

Dog lying on sofa

How You Can Help Your Dog

Unsurprisingly, dogs are terrified when they lose their sight. They don't understand what is happening, and they're scarred. The good news is, once they adapt, dogs are much better are dealing with blindness than people do.

Dogs rely on their sense of smell and hearing to navigate their environment, which means they rely on their eyes less. They still may have issues navigating, but you can set up their environment to help.

  • Keep a consistent schedule
  • Build a safe zone for them
  • Talk to your dog and offer audio cues
  • Avoid moving furniture around
  • Give them alternatives to stairs
  • Build location cues, such as carpeting or floor runners
  • Cover sharp edges of furniture and walls
  • Keep your house tidy

The goal is to make navigating your home as easy as possible for your dog. Next, offer them lots of love and reassurance. If your dog goes blind, they will learn to adapt with your help.

Living with a Blind Dog

A blind dog's life can be quite normal. However, you need to take special care of your blind dog so they don't hurt themselves. It's important for blind dogs to feel safe in their homes. If your dog has just been blinded or has become blind due to an illness, be sure to give them time to adjust before introducing them back into the family again. Blind dogs can still learn their way around new places and environments, but it may take them longer than other dogs.

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Signs Your Dog Is Going Blind and How to Help