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Preparing Your Dog for Vision Loss

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There are many causes of vision loss in dogs. As dogs get older, it’s natural for their eyesight to be less sharp than it used to be. Senior dogs are at increased risk of vision loss from various age-related conditions, including macular degeneration, iris atrophy, and geriatric cataracts. 

The good news is that dogs generally adjust well to slow vision loss, and it is usually painless. 

Genetic factors for vision loss in dogs

Dozens of known genetic factors can also increase a dog’s risk for inherited vision loss, including those associated with the following eye diseases:

  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Hereditary Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Collie Eye Anomaly (Choroidal Hypoplasia)
  • Achromatopsia (Cone Degeneration)
  • Canine Multifocal Retinopathy
  • Primary Lens Luxation
  • Congenital Stationary Night Blindness
  • Macular Corneal Dystrophy

In addition to the genetic variants that have been discovered, evidence suggests that there are many more variants associated with vision loss that haven’t yet been identified. 

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Signs of vision loss in dogs

Some signs that your dog might have trouble seeing include:

  • Reluctance to go down stairs
  • Reluctance to go into a dark room or outside at night
  • Bumping into door frames or corners
  • Difficulty fetching toys

How to prepare your dog for vision loss

A few small adjustments to your routine can help ease the transition for your dog.

1. Train with verbal cues

There’s no need to drastically change your regular training routine to prepare your dog for vision loss, but a few additions will help. You’ve probably already started training your dog using common verbal cues, like “sit” or “down.” You may want to add new cues, like “wait” or “stop,” so they learn to wait for your help to go outside or go down stairs, for example.

2. Prepare your home

Maintaining a familiar environment as much as possible can help dogs adjust to vision loss. If possible, avoid rearranging furniture, as your dog likely navigates through the house by memory. Keep your dog’s water and food bowls in a place they’re familiar with.

Consider using gates to block areas with potential dangers, like swimming pools or stairs. If you have hard floors, nonslip mats can help your dog navigate, and the texture can act as an indicator to alert them before they enter a new area of the house. 

3. Introduce toys they can hear or smell

Dogs with vision loss still enjoy playing! Try toys or games that engage their other senses, like squeaky or scented chew toys.

4. Practice scent work

Scent work is a great independent activity for blind dogs that provides enrichment while engaging their sense of smell. This sport involves training your dog to sniff out various scents from essential oils (such as birch, clove, and anise). The physical demands of this sport are low, and scent work can help your dog build confidence and keep their brain busy.

5. Avoid surprises

To avoid startling your dog, give them an audible signal before touching or petting them. The signal could be as simple as speaking or walking with heavier footsteps so they hear you approaching. It’s a good idea to let others know, too, so they don’t accidentally surprise your dog with sudden movements.

It’s important to remember that dogs who develop blindness continue to lead happy, healthy lives. Many are able to return to the activities they enjoyed before losing their vision. Though it requires a few extra steps to keep them safe, dogs with impaired vision can still lead happy, enriched lives.

Mimi Padmabandu Contributor

Mimi Padmabandu is a scientific writer and Content Strategy Lead at Embark Veterinary. She has over a decade of experience writing about science and genomics for leading biotechnology companies. She holds a bachelor's degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from UCLA and a master’s degree in Early Modern English Literature from King’s College London.

Read more about Mimi Padmabandu

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