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Dog Vision Loss: A Comprehensive Guide

Vision loss is relatively uncommon for dogs, but it can occur due to disease, aging, hereditary factors, or other causes. Today, our Renton vets discuss signs and causes of vision loss in dogs, and what can be done to help you both adapt. 

Acute & Gradual Vision Loss in Dogs

Similar to people, dogs can go blind in one or both eyes. They are also very good at relying on senses other than eyesight to navigate their environment, and losing their vision does not typically impact their quality of life significantly, especially if the vision loss occurs gradually. 

Blindness can occur quickly (acutely) or gradually (chronically). Dogs with vision that deteriorates gradually may seem unaffected if their living conditions and surroundings remain unchanged, since they are already aware of how their space is laid out. 

In contrast, a dog with sudden vision loss may become distressed or appear depressed. They will likely need some time to adapt to the change. Keep in mind that any sudden onset of vision loss requires emergency medical attention. This will give you and your vet the best chance of restoring your dog's vision and identifying more serious neurological risks or illnesses. 

After your dog has received emergency care, you may be referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist for followup care and treatment. 

Types of Vision Loss in Dogs

While dogs become blind at different speeds, there are also different types of vision loss. Blindness can be partial (difficulty seeing) or complete. One eye (unilateral) or both eyes (bilateral) may be affected. 

What Are the Signs of Vision Loss in Dogs?

Here are a few symptoms that indicate your dog may be losing their vision:

  • Dazed, confused, easily startled 
  • Eyes becoming cloudy
  • Squinting or pawing at the face 
  • Puffy, swollen, red, or inflamed eyes 
  • Behavioral changes that suggest anxiety or hesitation in new places 
  • Unwillingness to walk up or down stairs, or jump onto furniture
  • Bumping into objects
  • Less interested in playing 
  • Not making eye contact with you as much as he used to 
  • Pupils don't dilate when in a dark room or constrict when exposed to bright light 

What Causes Vision Loss in Dogs? 

Disease, genetic or hereditary factors, or aging can all contribute to your dog's vision loss.

Blindness can also manifest as a solitary symptom, or in conjunction with other symptoms, depending on the underlying cause. Diseases such as kidney or liver disorders, heart disease, or other systemic illnesses can negatively impact your dog's vision. 

Conditions that commonly cause vision loss in dogs include:


The natural aging process can sometimes bring vision loss ranging from minor issues to full blindness. Cataracts often become an issue for older dogs and may appear on their own or simultaneously with other diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes. 

Senior dogs are also more prone to developing glaucoma. Our vets recommend having your dog's eyesight checked frequently during their senior years - as often as every six to nine months. 


This serious condition is marked by opacity (cloudiness) in the eye's lens. If the opacity covers a significant part of the lens, it stops light from fully reaching the retina and your dog may have challenges seeing. While surgery may prevent blindness, early intervention is critical. 

Chronic Dry Eye 

Dry eye syndrome in dogs involves inadequate or decreased tear production. Tears are important to a dog's eye health, comfort, and lubrication. They also contain antibacterial proteins, white blood cells that fight infection, mucus, and other enzymes that help keep the eye free or irritation, infection, and debris. 

The lacrimal and third eyelid glands are responsible for producing the watery layer of tears. In dogs with dry eye syndrome, these glands contribute little or nothing to the tears, even though the glands responsible for the lipid and mucin layers still function. This typically causes the eyes to grow dry and fill with mucus and goo, and can lead to vision impairment and blindness. 


We are increasingly seeing older dogs come in with diabetes. Older dogs of large breeds, obese dogs, dogs with poor nutrition, and breeding females are at higher risk of becoming diabetic. Many of these dogs will develop cataracts, which can lead to full or partial blindness. 


Glaucoma is a painful condition that involves elevated pressure in the eye. It feels similar to a migraine headache. Uncontrolled glaucoma can quickly cause irreversible damage to the eye's retina and optic nerve, leading to blindness.

Though treatment is available, early diagnosis and treatment are key to giving your dog the best chance of having a positive outcome. Your dog's eyes may have green or yellow discharge, their pupils may be dilated or their eyes may be bloodshot. Your pup may also be slow to react to bright light. 


Systemic hypertension (high blood pressure) can cause many eye problems for dogs, including retinal detachment, which may lead to sudden blindness. Symptoms can also include bleeding inside the globe of the eye, and persistently dilated pupils. 


This immune-mediated condition affects the cornea or the clear part of the eye, causing it to become cloudy, hazy, or pigmented over time. Both eyes are often affected. In most cases, changes in the third eyelid also occur. 

While not usually painful, pannus in dogs can cause visible corneal and third eyelid lesions, as well as eye discharge and redness. Pannus does not usually affect vision unless the condition is severe in both eyes. However, left untreated, there may be severe opacification of the cornea along with destruction of the third eyelid.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy 

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRFA) is a painless condition that can cause the retina to deteriorate, leading to blindness in both eyes. It is inherited and develops at a slower rate, allowing your dog to gradually adjust to losing their sight. 

Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome

Like PRFA, Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (SARDS) causes deterioration of the retina, resulting in blindness in both eyes. However, with this condition the onset of blindness occurs much more quickly and can lead to total blindness within weeks – or even days. This is much more difficult for your pooch as it allows them less time to adjust to sight loss. 


Eye tumors or growths are not uncommon in dogs. Changes to eye tissue can develop as a primary tumor, but can also be a secondary result of spreading tumor cells that originated in another part of the body. Tumors of the eye can also be both benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous). 

Viral infection, lesions, chronic ocular inflammation, the spread of metastatic disease or recurring dry eye can factor into the development of tumors. 

Untreated Eye Infections 

Several types of eye infections can cause discomfort, redness, or sensitivity to light in your canine companion. They can even contribute to vision loss if left untreated. These infections can include pink eye (conjunctivitis), inflammation of the cornea, and uveitis (an inflammation of one or more of the eye's inner structures such as the iris, choroid, or ciliary body). 

These infections may have causes ranging from parasitic infections to trauma, scratches or cuts on the cornea, irritants or allergens, bacteria (canine brucellosis, leptospirosis, canine ehrlichiosis, or Lyme disease) and viruses (distemper, herpes, hepatitis, or canine influenza).

How Do I Know if My Dog is at Risk for Vision Loss?

Though blindness is uncommon in dogs, some breeds are more predisposed to developing conditions that lead to vision loss and blindness than others. 

How is Vision Loss in Dogs Treated?

Conditions that cause vision loss for dogs typically do not go away on their own. Early intervention is key when it comes to helping your dog cope with gradual or sudden onset vision loss. A veterinary ophthalmologist can diagnose the condition, and potentially recommend surgery to treat the condition, as well as ways to help your dog to vision loss

and provide recommendations for managing it. 

In addition to the medical concerns that accompany vision loss, this is often an emotional time for pet owners, especially if your dog's vision problems have occurred suddenly. We can also provide suggestions to help you and your pet cope with vision loss or blindness. 

What Can I Do to Help My Dog With Vision Loss?

While it is not always possible to restore vision, there are some things you can do to help your dog adapt to vision loss, including:

  • Keeping their living environment consistent and unchanged 
  • Leasing your dog while outside, and not leaving them unattended 
  • Helping them develop their other senses, including by teaching new commands that do not rely on vision
  • Using baby gates and other barriers, especially at the tops of stairs, to prevent injuries and falls 

How Can I Prevent My Dog From Losing His Vision?

Vision loss can be a painful, scary experience for your dog. Though loss of vision and blindness aren't usually life-threatening themselves, the diseases that cause them sometimes are. By stopping diseases from advancing, you can significantly improve your dog's health and longevity. 

We encourage pet owners to visit their primary vet for their annual exams and make an appointment with their vet or veterinary opthalmologist at the first sign of vision loss or other eye problems, as early detection and treatment of eye conditions can alleviate pain, help you and your dog cope with any existing vision loss, and, in some cases, prevent or minimize long-term ocular damage.

Also, be vigilant about protecting your pet's eyes from infections, injuries, and trauma. Keeping your dog physically active and at a healthy weight as they grow older will also help prevent conditions such as diabetes, which can contribute to blindness. 

Taking all of these actions can make a significant difference in your dog's life as they mature and enter their golden years. 

Veterinary Ophthalmology at  Northwest Animal Eye Specialists

Dogs can develop minor or severe eye conditions that can cause discomfort and impact their vision. While some of these are age-related, others may be injuries, diseases, or genetic problems. 

Regardless of the issue, a veterinarian or veterinary ophthalmologist should promptly assess any discomfort or loss of sight. Early detection, diagnosis, and treatment are key to good outcomes for your dog's health. 

Northwest Animal Eye Specialists is staffed with board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists who work with your pet's primary care vet to provide the most compassionate and comprehensive eye care possible. We're able to diagnose and treat almost any eye disease or condition, including cataracts, dry eye, tumors, infections, and more. 

Note: Northwest Animal Eye Specialists specializes in treating eye conditions and illnesses. The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical or behavioral advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.

Do you suspect your dog may be suffering from sudden or gradual vision loss? Contact our Renton vets to book a consultation with a veterinary ophthalmologist.

New Patients Welcome By Referral

We are accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the eye health of animals. Talk to your vet today about getting a referral to Northwest Animal Eye Specialists serving patients from Renton, Kirkland, and the surrounding areas.

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