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SARDS in Dogs: Vet-Verified Causes, Signs & Care Guide

Written by: Chris Dinesen Rogers

Last Updated on July 23, 2024 by Dogster Team

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SARDS in Dogs: Vet-Verified Causes, Signs & Care Guide

VET APPROVED

Dr. Chyrle Bonk Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Chyrle Bonk

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS) describes acute blindness in a dog that occurs from the degeneration of the retina. The deterioration of your pet’s vision is usually fairly quick over a few weeks or even a matter of days. Sadly, the condition is irreversible without a known cure. Care is primarily supportive. Vets consider it idiopathic or without a definitive cause.

However, research has found some promising leads to help veterinarians offer a good quality of life for dogs and pet owners coping with this condition.

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What Is SARDS?

SARDS typically strikes quickly, with most owners noting near complete or complete vision loss often within 2 weeks.1 The dog may otherwise seem normal and not show signs of discomfort or being in pain, and the animal’s eyes may also look fine, with no obvious red flags of a problem. Fortunately, the condition isn’t common, although some breeds have a greater propensity for developing it, including Bichon Frises, Brittany Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, and Dachshunds.

The disease starts due to the abnormal functioning of receptors in the retina. Eventually, the retina deteriorates, and the animal becomes blind. Discomfort likely exists because of the sudden vision loss. However, affected dogs aren’t in any pain.

close up of a blind dog
Image Credit: David_Will, Pixabay

What Are the Signs of SARDS?

The initial signs of SARDS are often behavioral. You may notice your dog staying in one place, seemingly unsure where to go. They may run into walls or furniture unexpectedly. Some pups become clingy, especially if the owners have a close relationship with their pets. They naturally seek the one who feeds them as a source of comfort and security. Other signs are subtle, such as dilated pupils, no matter what the ambient light.

SARDS typically occurs in pets 8.5 years and older. Spayed females are particularly hard hit. You may see other signs, including weight gain, increased urination, and an increase in water intake. These are often red flags for Cushing’s disease. Research has further shown elevated cortisol and sex hormones in animals diagnosed with SARDS, further suggesting that there may be a relationship between SARDS and Cushing’s.2

What Are the Causes of SARDS?

Currently, all science has right now are theories. However, some believe that it may be caused by autoimmune inflammation within the retina. There are also theories that it is hormonal. But again, there is no proof of these theories.

Unfortunately, it makes it challenging to develop treatments and cures without knowing the triggers or progression of the condition.

 

How Do I Care for a Dog With SARDS?

Blind chihuahua dog wearing Halo harness
Image Credit: Janice Hedgecock, Shutterstock

Caring for a dog with SARDS involves several components. Surprisingly, the dogs adapt relatively readily to being blind. Neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to create new neural pathways in response to these new environmental stimuli, is well-documented in animals and humans. The pup’s body compensates for the loss of sight with an increase in hearing and olfactory abilities. It’s even evident in older canines.

Keeping things status quo is imperative for a pet with SARDS. That means not moving the furniture until your dog learns the lay of the land without sight. You should also keep your pooch on a leash when outside. A halo harness may help protect them when walking in unfamiliar territory, and you can get your pet a bandana or collar that alerts others to your dog’s condition as well.

There are no reliable treatments for SARDS. The blindness is irreversible. Some researchers have experimented with various medications, including prednisone, but unfortunately, the results haven’t been consistent. Treatment is primarily supportive. Follow-up treatment is necessary if your vet diagnosed Cushing’s disease in your pup.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How Is SARDS Diagnosed?

There isn’t a specific blood test for SARDS, although blood work can identify Cushing’s disease. The gold standard is a measurement of retinal function with an electroretinogram (ERG). It detects neural activity. If things are normal, the ERG will produce a spike in the reading, showing the retina is responsive. The result is a flat line in animals with SARDS.

What Is the Quality of Life for a Dog With SARDS?

The long-term prognosis for a dog with SARDS is favorable. The majority of owners report a good to excellent quality of life for their pets after the adjustment period. Canines are adaptable animals. They manage well with various challenges.

old blind Shih Tzu at the park
Image Credit: Annette Shaff, Shutterstock

Can SARDS Be Prevented?

Until the research uncovers a definitive cause, it remains difficult to prevent. However, the evidence surrounding the connection with Cushing’s disease is compelling. We suggest discussing routine testing for your dog, particularly if they are a breed with a greater propensity for the condition. That includes Bichon Frises, Miniature Poodles, and Jack Russell Terriers.

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Conclusion

We understand how upsetting a diagnosis of SARDS in your pup can feel. It’s natural to feel empathetic about such a significant loss. However, dogs are resilient. They can cope with the sudden change in their lifestyle with your help. They can also enjoy a good quality of life and a closer relationship with their owners. This condition doesn’t need to hamper the bond you share with your canine companion, as they can continue to live a fulfilling life with a few adjustments and the help of your vet.


Featured Image Credit: StudioByTheSea, Shutterstock

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