Does Your Dog Need Glasses?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • Aside from obvious signs of vision troubles, like colliding with walls, signs your dog may be losing his eyesight include increased anxiety and not wanting to venture too far off on his own
  • Aggressive behavior can also result from vision problems, as your dog may be more easily startled or feel defensive if he’s handled unexpectedly
  • If you notice changes to your pet’s vision or see signs of eye problems such as redness in the eye, discharge, squinting or avoiding being pet near the eyes, see your veterinarian, who may refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist
  • Cataracts, glaucoma, retinal diseases, severe injuries and cancer of the eye are conditions that may require treatment by a veterinary ophthalmologist
  • Glasses or prescription goggles for dogs can help to both protect your dog’s eyes and improve vision, in some cases

For some dogs, vision changes lead to noticeable changes in their behavior, such as difficulty locating toys or bumping into furniture. Often, however, changes in vision can be subtle, making them far harder to detect. Dogs are highly adaptable, meaning they’ll adjust as their vision changes, and they also hide health challenges well, so keeping a close eye on your pup, especially if you suspect his vision may be failing him, is important.

Aside from obvious signs of vision troubles, like colliding with walls, signs your dog may be losing his eyesight include increased anxiety and not wanting to venture too far off on his own. Your dog may become more attached to you or less likely to explore outdoors. Aggressive behavior can also result, as he may be more easily startled or feel defensive if he’s handled unexpectedly.

Common Causes of Vision Trouble in Dogs

USA Today reported the story of Zero, an agility dog whose owner noticed he was running into obstacles only in areas where yellow objects blended in with the sand covering the arena floor.1 His owner took him to a veterinary ophthalmologist, who diagnosed him with progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

PRA is an inherited disease that causes dogs to lose their eyesight over a period of months to years. It’s most common in cocker spaniels, border collies, Irish setters, Norwegian elkhounds, schnauzers and poodles. The retina, which is in the back of the eye, is composed of rods that perceive light and cones that perceive color.

Normally the rods and cones mature by the time an animal reaches about 12 weeks of age, but in some pets with PRA, they never completely mature and may begin to degenerate at an early age. There’s also a condition called sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS), which generally strikes dogs between 7 and 14 years of age.

This syndrome, which is more common in females and is often associated with Atypical Cushing’s Disease, causes total destruction of the rods and cones of the retina and has a sudden onset — literally overnight in some cases. There may also be a dramatic increase in a dog's thirst and appetite in the weeks before blindness occurs.

Eye Conditions That Affect Vision

Aside from PRA and SARDS, dogs’ eyesight generally declines with age. Age-related eye conditions can be slowed by feeding a naturally anti-inflammatory diet, rich with antioxidants that naturally nourish the eyes.

Your pet’s eyes can also be affected by injuries and other eye conditions. This includes glaucoma, a condition that occurs when there is inadequate drainage of fluid, leading to increased intraocular pressure. Watery discharge from the eye, swelling or bulging of the eyeball or eye pain may also occur.

Primary glaucoma is inherited due to an abnormality with the drainage angle in the eye. It occurs in many breeds, including the cocker spaniel, basset hound, chow, Jack Russell terrier, shih tzu and Siberian husky. Primary glaucoma typically starts in one eye and progresses to the other and is considered a medical emergency.

Secondary glaucoma occurs when other eye diseases are present that inhibit drainage of the aqueous humor inside the eye. These diseases include inflammation of the eye (uveitis), advanced cataracts, cancer of the eye, lens displacement and chronic retinal detachment.

Glaucoma can cause permanent blindness, so take your dog to the veterinarian immediately if you suspect glaucoma. Cataracts, which form a blue cloud of varying degrees inside the capsule that houses the lens of the eye, can also cause vision loss or blindness that may come on gradually or quickly, as can corneal ulcers.

Signs You Should See a Veterinary Ophthalmologist

Many eye problems can be handled by your regular veterinarian, but in some cases a specialist is called for. If you notice changes to your pet’s vision or see signs of eye problems such as redness in the eye, discharge, squinting or avoiding being pet near the eyes, see your veterinarian, who may refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist.

According to the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO), cataracts, glaucoma, retinal diseases, severe injuries and cancer of the eye are conditions that may require treatment by a veterinary ophthalmologist.2 They note:3

“Your general practice veterinarian has excellent training in veterinary medicine and acts as a family practice physician to your pet. But just as with human medicine, there are occasions when your veterinarian might want assistance or suggest a referral to a specialist to better meet your pet's needs.”

In particular, if your dog has an eye condition that is not responding to other treatments, or has a condition that may affect vision, such as diabetes, a veterinary ophthalmologist may be helpful.

Does Your Dog Need Glasses?

Treatments for dog vision problems range from eye drops and medications to surgery, but can also include supportive care such as glasses. Glasses for dogs can help protect your dog’s eyes and improve vision. One product, known as Rex Specs, will protect your dog’s eyes from debris and injury while also helping to boost contrast, which can in turn boost vision.4

Other eyewear for dogs may protect from ultraviolet light, which can worsen certain eye conditions such as pannus, while dogs who have surgery for cataracts may benefit from prescription goggles as well.

It will take some adjusting for your dog to learn to wear eyewear, but some dogs end up embracing the goggles, especially if they associate them with going outdoors or engaging in other activities they enjoy. If you need to locate a veterinary ophthalmologist, ACVO has a tool to find one near you.5

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