What is sudden onset blindness?


Sudden onset blindness is a condition which causes your dog to lose his sight in a relatively short period of time — anything from as rapidly as a few days, to up to a week or two.

It is most common in older dogs, particularly those over the age of seven. Some breeds are more prone to blindness than others, including Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Dalmatians, and Great Danes. Brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds, such as Pugs and Boston Terriers, can also be prone to the condition.

What causes a dog to go blind?

Blindness in dogs mainly occurs as a result of several common conditions, such as cataracts, glaucoma, tumours, and retinal detachment. It can also be the result of long-term illnesses, such as kidney failure, diabetes, hypertension, Cushing’s disease, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), an inherited disease which attacks the cells in the dog’s retina. But sudden blindness, or SARDS, is a disease where the cells and rods in the retina die without warning. It normally occurs in dogs over the age of eight.

What are the symptoms of sudden onset blindness?

The most obvious symptoms are that your dog may become disorientated and bump into things. He may be unable to find his food and water, or become more cautious when negotiating his way around the house and garden. Look out for your dog rubbing his eyes, his eyes becoming red and teary, or the surface of the eyes becoming cloudy. A sudden change to one of his most important senses can cause your dog to become confused, fearful, or depressed.

Testing and diagnosis of sudden onset blindness

If you fear that your dog might be losing his sight, your vet can organise a number of tests to check the responses of your dog’s eyes, and determine if your dog is partially, intermittently, or completely blind. Your vet will perform a complete physical examination of your dog to test for any underlying diseases, which may cause blindness, including blood tests, MRI and CT scans, and a vision test to check your dog’s pupils’ dilation rate when exposed to bright lights and darkness. He will also test your dog’s reactions to an object coming towards him at speed.

Is there any cure for sudden onset blindness?

If the sudden onset blindness is caused by cataracts, then an operation to remove them could rectify the problem. However, in the cases of PRA and SARDS, and often with many inherited diseases, there is no cure, and it will just be a case of helping your dog adjust to his new situation. Dogs are very adaptable, and with some help and support from you, they will soon bounce back and adjust.

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How can I help my dog with sudden onset blindness?

The key to helping your dog adapt to his new lifestyle is consistency. He will have developed a map in his mind of where everything is in your home, such as furniture, his food, bed, and other important essentials, so it’s important not to make changes to the layout of your home.

If you do bring in new furniture, make sure it is put in the same place as the old, so as not to confuse your dog. When you go out, consider leaving the TV or a radio on, so he doesn’t feel isolated. You could also try attaching small bells to your ankle or shoelaces, particularly when you are out walking, so your dog knows where you are and can find you more easily. Start teaching your dog new ‘help words’, so he’s aware when he needs to take care, for example: ‘Stop’, ‘Step up/ down’, and ‘Careful’.

Help and advice

For owners who are finding the process of caring for a blind dog daunting, help is available in the form of Blind Dog Rescue UK. The charity was set up by vet nurse Katy Orton, who has blind dogs of her own, as a way to show how fulfilling life can be even if your dog has lost his sight. The charity also helps to rescue and rehome blind dogs from the UK and Europe.

Katy says: “I am a vet nurse and know how terrifying it is for pet owners to be faced with the news that their beloved dog is going blind. Many will consider euthanasia, and this was one of the reasons I set up Blind Dog Rescue UK, to try to make sure that people know how incredible blind dogs are, and how well they adapt to life after losing their sight.

“Our job is to keep blind dogs safe, and make sure they can live their lives to their fullest potential. We are more than happy to help any dog owners who are struggling, and have a great owners’ page on Facebook, where our adopters discuss solutions to various problems that crop up.”

For more information about Blind Dog Rescue UK, visit the charity’s website at www.bdruk.org