I'm a firm believer that humans are unworthy of dogs, but I'm so glad we get to have them anyway. They're magical creatures — they comfort us when we're distressed, celebrate with us when we're happy, and are the world's most loyal companions. Of course, that's also why it's so hard to see your dog sick or struggling. It's not uncommon for a dog to lose its vision as it ages, but it can be a scary transition for both fur baby and parent. Here's how to tell if your dog is going blind, because no matter how badly all dog people wish, pups just can't tell us themselves.
If you're concerned about your dog losing its vision, I want to share a story that I hope will give you some comfort. When my husband and I went to the animal shelter together to find our first dog, we fell in love with a 1-year-old chocolate lab. After speaking with some of the volunteers at the shelter, we learned that this dog was cross-eyed and mostly blind. I called up my mom, who runs an animal sanctuary and has six rescue dogs herself. She told me, "Oh, don't worry about that. If your dog has to be missing a sense, vision is the best one to be gone. He'll be just fine without it." In typical fashion, my mom was absolutely right. Sure, Henry ran into his fair share of walls and took his sweet time finding his ball during fetch, but he loved, played, and explored just like any other dog. If your dog loses its vision, the transition period will be the toughest part. They'll adapt, and they'll be OK.
If you suspect your pup's vision is deteriorating, here are some of the warning signs to look out for.
1. They're Bumping Into Walls & Furniture.
This will get your attention pretty fast. If your dog is bumping into chairs, door frames, walls, and even people, they probably aren't seeing very clearly. If you've started to notice this, do your dog a favor: don't rearrange furniture, don't leave things lying in the middle of the floor, and avoid taking them to brand new environments. The American Kennel Club noted, "Your dog will form a mental map of his surroundings, and your goal is to keep that map accurate. Be sure there are clear paths for your dog to walk from one area to another."
2. They're Hesitant Or Nervous To Go Outside At Night
According to Reach Out Rescue & Resources, one of the first signs of vision loss is often decreased night vision. You may notice your pal bump into things more in the dark, or in dim lighting. They also might seem hesitant or fearful to go outside at night — and can you blame them? Suddenly, their night walk is totally and completely pitch black.
3. They Have Trouble Finding Their Toys, Treats, Or Bowls
If we hadn't known Henry was blind when we brought him home, we definitely would've been able to tell the first time we played with him. He absolutely loved balls, but could only play fetch in silence, where he could hear the ball hit the ground. If he didn't hear that noise, he'd take a while sniffing the ball out.
Is your dog doing something similar? If they're having trouble finding their toys or unable to find treats you've tossed to them, their vision might be going.
4. Their Eyes Look Different.
Some vision problems can be caused by issues you can see. One common cause of vision loss in dogs is cataracts, which look like hazy, white clouds over the eye. Other symptoms to look for, according to PetWave, are redness and dilated pupils.
5. They Seem Nervous Or Disoriented
Have you noticed your dog starting to seem skittish or startling easily? Do they seem confused or lost? All of these things can be a sign of vision loss, which can be confusing and nerve-wracking for a dog (especially since they can't understand what's going on).
6. They Walk Slowly, Or With Their Nose To The Ground
Whenever my vision is impaired during a thunderstorm, I drive under the speed limit. I'm extra cautious, and I want to give myself plenty of time to react if something enters my path. This is exactly why your dog may be walking slowly, and carefully sniffing out their path. Because they can't see clearly, they're tentative and cautious with their movement. If they've bumped into walls and furniture, they've also learned.
7. They've Become Less Playful & Energetic
You might suspect your dog is sick because they've started sleeping more and playing less, but both of those things can actually be symptoms of vision loss. Because their world has suddenly become blurry (or totally dark), it makes sense that they're less happy-go-lucky. It's a scary feeling. Some dogs may even become aggressive, or lash out, out of fear.
If you've noticed these signs in your dog, it's important to take them to their veterinarian for a check-up. There are a variety of different causes for vision loss — from glaucoma to hypertension to untreated infections — and a vet can perform a vision test and give you more answers.
In the meantime (though I'm sure I don't have to tell you this), give your sweet fur baby some extra cuddles and a few extra treats. Make sure to keep their bowls, crate, and favorite dog bed in the same spot to avoid confusing them — it can also decrease their anxiety if they have a designated "safe space" to return to when they're nervous. While losing vision would be an incredibly scary sensation, nothing's that bad as long as they've got you.