Be on the lookout for vision impairment in pets
Posted July 29, 2018
Like people, dogs and cats can experience poor or failing
eyesight as they age
The onset of vision loss in our pets can occur for a number of
reasons, including cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal diseases such
as sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS), and
progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).
SARDS, a disease that affects the function of the light sensing
cells of the retina, primarily affects middle-aged dogs and results
in blindness over a very short period of time. Symptoms include
difficulty navigating, bumping into objects and dilation of the
pupils. Some dogs may also have systemic changes such as an
increased appetite, increased thirst and weight gain.
PRA causes the light sensing cells of the retina to gradually
deteriorate over the course of several weeks to months. This
condition primarily affects middle-aged to older dogs. Early signs
may include decreased night vision and a pet becoming more
reluctant to go outside when it is dark or hesitant to walk around
in low-light settings.
If vision loss is suspected, Dr. Erin Scott, an assistant
professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine &
Biomedical Sciences, recommends that owners begin by performing
simple at-home tests on their pets to determine if their sight is
“Owners can test how well their pet tracks a cotton ball when
it’s tossed in the air or how well their eyes are able to follow a
laser pointer because neither of these items produce a scent or a
sound that their other senses will be able to detect,” Scott
If any changes in vision are noted, Scott advises owners to keep
a close eye on their pet’s appearance and behavior.
“They should pay attention to their pet’s ability to navigate
around the house in different light settings as this can be an
early sign of retinal degeneration,” she said. “Most importantly,
any form of ocular discomfort like rubbing at the eye, squinting or
increased redness, tearing or cloudiness should be evaluated by a
If detected soon enough and depending on the underlying causes
of the vision loss, restoration may be possible with timely
treatment or surgery by a veterinary ophthalmology specialist.
“If diagnosed early, dogs can undergo cataract surgery to
restore vision, ” Scott explained. “Glaucoma often leads to an
irreversible blindness; however, there are medical and surgical
treatment options for glaucoma, and if caught soon enough, we can
maintain vision for as long as possible. Unfortunately, as of now,
there is no proven therapy to help restore vision in veterinary
patients with any form of retinal degeneration.”
Fully restored eyesight may not always be possible, but Scott
reminds owners that our beloved pets have an incredible ability to
cope with the loss of one of their senses.
“Dogs and cats do remarkably well with vision loss, as they can
compensate with their sense of smell and hearing much better than
we ever could,” she said. “If only one eye is affected, you may not
notice a change in your pet’s ability to see at all.”
Although pets have their own coping mechanisms, owners should
make navigation as seamless and easy as possible until their pets
have adjusted to a life without vision.
“It is important to protect them from dangers such as stairs and
pools,” Scott said. “Use tactile cues such as mats at the top of
stairs to help orient them; placing scents around the perimeter of
your house or yard can also be helpful. Lastly, toys that produce a
sound or have a certain scent can allow them to play and continue
to enjoy an excellent quality of life despite their vision
While the fear of the unknown can be the scariest aspect of
dealing with your pet’s vision loss, by being on the lookout for
the early signs of impairment and protecting affected pets from any
possible dangers, owners can ensure their furry friends still live
a happy, healthy life.
Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be
viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk.
Suggestions for future topics may be directed to email@example.com.
↑ Back to Top
« Back to Pet Talk