It’s easy to spot the cloudiness in the eyes of our senior dogs. Many of us chalk it up to another sign of aging. But what is jarring is that less-known eye conditions like Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (SARDS) or a traumatic eye injury can quickly rob any of our dogs of their sight at any age.
What is SARDS?
“A dog with SARDS can lose his sight within one to two days,” said Caryn Plummer, D.V.M., a veterinary ophthalmologist and associate professor at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville. “This is a very weird condition not well understood. It is difficult to diagnose, and we still do not know what causes it and have yet to develop any effective treatments to cure it.”
It’s suspected that SARDS is a collection of conditions, but Dr. Plummer said more research is needed to better understand it.
“Dogs with SARDS show signs associated with Cushing’s disease — increased thirst, appetite and urination — but they do not have elevated levels of cortisol that dogs with Cushing’s disease have,” she added.
SARDS signs are easy to miss. One day, your dog is navigating easily around the furniture and two days later he bumps into the sofa, can’t catch that flung ball in the backyard and may even cling to you to help him move about the house. Yet, his eyes look clear and healthy.
“Upon initial exam, the eyes look normal, and the retina is functioning,” Dr. Plummer explained. “The diagnosis of SARDS can be quite shocking to people because it comes on quickly in their dogs. At least with progressively degenerating eye conditions such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), people have time to adjust knowing that their dogs will be blind in months or a couple years. It is very hard to console people whose dogs have suddenly lost their vision due to SARDS.”
What Dogs Get SARDS?
SARDS seems to strike more often in middle-aged female dogs, with breeds like Bichon Frises, Brittany Spaniels, Dachshunds, Maltese, Miniature Schnauzers and Pugs unexplainably at heightened risk.
Is SARDS Painful for Your Dog?
About the only saving grace of a SARDS diagnosis from your veterinarian is that your dog is not enduring any eye pain and can easily tap into his more superior senses of smell and hearing to enjoy a long, happy life with you.
“Trust me, eye pain is one of the worst pains a dog can experience,” Dr. Plummer said. “There are two types of eye pain: sharp pain or a dull, ongoing achy pain similar to migraine headaches. Most dogs with SARDS will acclimate to losing their sight and do well by having their other senses take over. Sight is secondary to what a dog can smell and hear in his environment.”
Tips for Dealing with a Blind Dog
- Dr. Plummer encourages you to be proactive by focusing on your dog’s vision. Tip: By catching an eye issue early, you can save on veterinary bills and possibly prevent permanent vision loss or slow down the progression.
- If your dog becomes blind, Dr. Plummer shared these six other tips to help him navigate in your home:
- Don’t dismiss deviations in your dog’s actions or behaviors. They may be early signs of vision loss.
- Book an appointment with your veterinarian to receive an examination that includes a thorough inspection of your dog’s eyes. And, consider taking your dog to a veterinary ophthalmologist to get a more detailed diagnosis. To find one in your area: Go to American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists at acvo.org.
- Spray perfume (that your dog doesn’t mind) or canine pheromones around corners and on objects. Your dog can smell this scent and learn to avoid running into a corner or piece of furniture.
- Place textured runners in hallways to alert your dog that he is entering a narrowed area from a large room with carpeting or wood flooring.
- Train your dog to follow your voice. Retrain your dog how to go up and down stairs by using treats on the steps. Install baby gates at the top and bottom of stairways that you close when you are unable to supervise your dog.
Dr. Plummer’s insight on other dog eye infections and dog eye diseases:
The lens in the eye becomes cloudy, opaque and can lead to blindness. The top contributor is genetics, followed by diabetes. Medications are available to slow down retinal degeneration caused by cataracts.
Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
This affects the mucus membranes located inside a dog’s eyelids, causing inflammation, redness and discomfort. Infections as well as environmental factors like dirt and dust in the eyes can cause conjunctivitis and impair a dog’s vision.
Discharge or dry eye
Also known as keratonconjunctivitis sicca, dry eye is due to tear ducts not producing enough tears to keep the eyes and lining of the eyelids properly moist. Your dog will blink excessively, and you may see pus discharge or even eye ulcers.
Although the increased pressure in the eye causes migraine-like pain, some dogs may hide other pain by sleeping more or acting irritable. Glaucoma can affect one or both eyes. Look for signs of red, cloudy eyes or dilated pupils. Unchecked, the eye can bulge and blindness can set in.
If a cat’s claw scratches your dog’s lens or a stick pokes his eye, place a medical collar on your dog, and head to the veterinarian immediately. Both are medical emergency situations due to the bacteria invasion into your dog’s eye from the cat or the dirty stick.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
The first sign of this inherited, progressive blindness is that your dog will not be able to see at night. Border Collies, Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters, Norwegian Elkhounds, Poodles and Schnauzers are most at risk. Fortunately, this condition is not painful.
Third eyelid inflammation
More commonly called “cherry eye,” this condition is characterized by an oval mass protruding from your dog’s third eyelid.
Thumbnail: Photography by Fotoedu/Thinkstock.
Read more about your dog’s eyes on Dogster.com:
- Dog Eye Discharge — What’s Normal and What’s Not
- Are Human OTC Eye Drops Safe for Dogs?
- New Study Looks for Answers to an Unexplained Eye Disease in Dogs
Arden Moore, The Pet Health and Safety Coach™, is a pet behavior consultant, master certified pet first aid instructor, author and host of the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at fourleggedlife.com.