Blind Dog? All Is Not Lost! (what's the cause and how to help them cope)

It can be really scary if sudden blindness affects your dog, both for them and you. Today I’m talking all about the causes of sudden blindness in dogs, with specific reference to a condition known as Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome, as well as giving you some tips to help your dog cope with being blind.

All is not lost.

sudden blindness in dogs with picture of dog with cataracts

This question is all about sudden blindness in dogs. So this dog’s owner noticed that the dog’s eyesight was reducing maybe a week previously, and then the dog suddenly became blind. They took them to the vet, had their eyes examined and there was the suspicion that it’s developed sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome or SARDS.

The question is really, what are other causes of sudden blindness? Is that going to be the diagnosis? They've done some reading about Heartgard. The dog has just started Heartgard and there are potentially some implications that that can cause sudden blindness. And, are there any treatments that might actually help this dog regain their sight?

Sudden blindness causes

So there are potentially a number of causes of sudden blindness in dogs. So SARDS or sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome is certainly one but dogs can also get rapidly developing cataracts due to diabetes. Dogs can get retinal detachment. This can be an immune mediated problem, the body's immune system isn't working as it should do, or it can also be blood pressure related, often a result of kidney disease.

We can also have glaucoma, which is an increase in pressure within the eye causing blindness, that's often very painful and can be quite obvious, certainly when it's advanced. Dogs can also get tumors in the eye that can cause blindness and there's a whole heap of other things we can get such as brain lesions as well.

Heartgard and ivermectin

Heartgard contains ivermectin, and ivermectin toxicity can cause sudden blindness. However, at normal doses and even at 10 times the normal dose Heartgard has been found to be safe. This is even in Collie’s, which is a breed that is known to be more sensitive to the effects of ivermectin than other breeds of dogs. So with normal Heartgard treatment, it's really highly unlikely to be responsible for this sudden blindness or for any blindness unless a really serious overdose was given, or there was another exposure to a different source of ivermectin. So ivermectin is found in other parasite control products and also some livestock products and that kind of thing. So if there's been any exposure to those chemicals then that’s certainly a potential and one to bear in mind.

Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome

The sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome is actually a really rare disease and we don't know why it happens. It could be immune mediated, so again, the immune system isn't working properly. It could be due to something called Cushing's disease or hyperadrenocorticism, which is an abnormality in our bodies, either in the pituitary or adrenal gland.

With SARDS blindness generally occurs in less than one month, so this dog certainly ticks that box, and is often accompanied by an increase in thirst and an increase in hunger. So that would be interesting to know if that was the case here.

Unfortunately there's no medical or surgical treatment that we are aware of at this stage to treat this cause of sudden blindness in dogs. That means that a dog will be blind permanently.

Helping a blind dog cope

It's important to know though that in fact many dogs can cope very well with being blind. Some will struggle and my experience is that those dogs that have become blind very suddenly are more likely to struggle. Certainly with something like diabetic cataracts that can happen in 24 to 48 hours in some cases. So it can come on really suddenly and that's in both eyes and they may struggle to cope a little bit more.

Those dogs that become blind a little bit more slowly, they can cope very well but we need to be keeping the environment stable. So we don't want to be moving furniture, changing the floor plan of the house, just so that your dog is very familiar with their surroundings.

We want to install stair gates if you've got any stairs, so that they can't either fall downstairs or they can't climb up and get themselves into trouble that can cause them some serious injuries. You can also get something called a halo harness for when your dog is out. So that is a little harness that they wear and it's got a plastic halo rim that goes around their face so that when they are coming up to bump into something, then that actually knocks into that halo, the dog feels it and they're not going to bump into it and hurt themselves. It will also help a blind dog feel less anxious and give them more confidence to explore and rely on their other senses of smell and hearing.

Talking to your dog is also very important. Just don't sneak up on them because that can give them a great deal of anxiety.

So while it can be understandably very distressing for any dog that goes blind suddenly, they often will cope very well with a few changes and a few adaptations to their lifestyle.

The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.

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