4 Common Causes of Vision Loss in Senior Dogs (+ Treatment Options)

Nicole Etolen
January 16 2023

Vision loss in senior dogs is a fairly common (yet still concerning) condition. This can be a frightening condition for both you and your beloved furry friend. It can be difficult to recognize the symptoms of vision loss and to know when to seek help. So, I put this handy easy-to-follow guide together to help you out! Below, we will discuss the causes of vision loss in senior dogs & the warning signs to look out for. We'll also touch on potential treatments and medications that may help.

Before we dive in, though, I just want to clarify that this is NOT medical advice. Always talk to your vet about any concerns you have regarding your dog's health.

causes of vision loss in senior dogs

What Causes Vision Loss in Senior Dogs?

There are many potential causes of vision loss in senior dogs ranging from major medical conditions to simple "old age problems." Let's go over some of the most common causes.

1. Age-related degeneration

Also called macular degeneration, this occurs when the lens of your dog's eye becomes clouded and prevents light from passing through to the retina. There are several different types, including:

  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)- as the name implies, this cause of dog vision loss gets worse over time. While any dog can suffer from PRA, it's most common in labradors, miniature poodles, collies, cocker spaniels, mastiffs, and Irish setters.
  • Central PRA- dogs lose central vision (what they see when they're looking straight ahead) but retain most of their peripheral vision (what they see out of the "corner" of their eye)
  • Hemeralopia - makes it challenging for your dog to see in bright light
  • Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis - loss of vision caused by a nervous system disorder
  • Sudden acquired retinal degeneration (SARD)- Causes sudden blindness in dogs due to changes in the retina.

2. Cataracts

As with people, cataracts in dogs can occur as a result of aging or genetics. It can also be a complication of other serious medical conditions, such as diabetes. They're among the more noticeable conditions because you'll actually be able to see your dog's eyes getting cloudier. 

The good news is that cataracts don't necessarily cause complete vision loss, especially with early veterinary intervention. The bad news? That "intervention" means surgery, which is the only reliable way to treat cataracts in dogs.

3. Glaucoma

Dr. Tammy Hunter, DVM explains, "Glaucoma is a disease of the eye in which the pressure within the eye, called the intraocular pressure (IOP) is increased." She goes on to explain that it's caused by "inadequate drainage of aqueous fluid." In lay terms, basically, there's too much pressure in your dog's eyes because of fluid build-up. It can occur due to genetics or as a result of injury or illness.

Where macular degeneration and cataracts are typically fairly painless, glaucoma can be very painful for your dog. Without prompt treatment, it can lead to irreversible blindness. In fact, it's one of the few causes of vision loss in senior dogs that constitutes a true medical emergency.

4. Retinal Detachment 

Retinal detachment is another cause of vision loss in older dogs that has a myriad of sub-causes.  As Dr. Robert English tells the AKC Canine Health Foundation, “High blood pressure, a common problem in certain breeds, is a leading cause of retinal detachment and loss of vision in [an] older dog. Likewise, chronic dental disease can lead to changes in the eye that reduce vision.”

While it sounds horrifying, a detached retina is actually fairly treatable. Depending on the cause, medication alone may be more than enough to repair the damage. Your vet is really the only one who can determine that, though. So, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'll remind you once again to make an appointment the moment you notice ANY changes in your dog's vision or eyes.

Now that we have a better understanding of the causes of vision loss in senior dogs, let's look at some of the warning signs aside from the obvious.

Warning Signs of Dog Vision Loss

There's really not a whole lot you can do to entirely prevent vision loss. However,  when you know what to watch out for you can at least get out ahead of the problem and maybe slow down the progression a bit.

There are a few warning signs that you can look out for if you suspect your senior dog is experiencing vision loss. These signs can include:

  • bumping into objects or sudden clumsiness
  • panting or other signs of increased anxiety
  • increased vocalizations (barking and whining)
  • confusion
  • avoiding stairs or other obstacles (your dog suddenly stops jumping up on the bed or sofa, for example)
  • clingy behavior
  • snapping or other aggressive behavior

If you notice any of these warning signs in your senior dog, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. All of them could indicate other more serious conditions in addition to (or aside from) vision loss. For example, sudden confusion could indicate a stroke.

senior dog wearing glasses

Potential Treatments and Medications

Treatment for your senior dog's vision loss depends entirely on the cause (and if applicable the underlying cause of that cause) and ranges from inexpensive supplements to prescription medications to complex surgeries. Again, only your veterinarian can advise you on the best course of treatment for your pet, but let's quickly go over a few of the more common possibilities.

  • Supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and even CBD oil may help slow down your dog's vision loss progression and/or help manage any pain that accompanies it.
  • Prescription medications: Prescriptions are mostly used to treat underlying causes of vision loss. For example, your vet may prescribe something to help keep your dog's blood pressure in check or to manage diabetes. For glaucoma, vets may prescribe pain medication to improve your pup's quality of life.
  • Surgical treatments: For cataracts in particular, surgery really is the only viable option.

Many causes of vision loss in senior dogs are completely incurable. In those cases, the only real "treatment" is helping your dog adjust to living with less-than-stellar vision.

What Do Veterinarians Say About Vision Loss in Dogs?

Every vet seems to say the same thing: early treatment is VITAL. For example, Dr. Jennifer Coates of PetMD offers some of the best advice for dog owners. She writes, “Vision loss in senior dogs can be a frightening and difficult condition to manage. It is important to recognize the warning signs and contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to get the best treatment for your pet.”

Dr. Leslie E. Farris reiterates this advice, saying, “Early diagnosis and treatment of vision loss in senior dogs can improve the quality of life for your pet and make it easier to manage the condition.”

FAQS about Vision Loss in Senior Dogs

Before we say goodbye for today, let's just quickly summarize some of the most commonly asked questions about vision loss in elderly dogs.

1. What causes vision loss in senior dogs?

As discussed above, vision loss in senior dogs can be caused by a myriad of factors ranging from age-related degenerative conditions (like cataracts or glaucoma) to trauma or disease. Some of these conditions are treatable if caught early, so it's important to take your pet to the vet for regular check-ups.

2. Is vision loss in senior dogs reversible?

There's no straight yes or no answer to this one. Some conditions, such as cataracts, can be reversed with surgery. Others can be significantly improved with medication. However, a few causes are completely irreversible and incurable.

3. What are the signs of vision loss in senior dogs?

Common signs of vision loss in senior dogs include difficulty navigating around the house, bumping into walls or furniture, changes in behavior, and increased anxiety around unfamiliar people or objects. If you notice any of these signs in your senior dog, it's important to take them to the vet for a check-up.

4. Can senior dogs adjust to vision loss?

Yes, senior dogs can adjust to vision loss with the right support and care. This includes providing your pet with a safe, familiar environment where they can move around easily and confidently, as well as regular visits to the vet.

5. How can I make my senior dog's life easier with vision loss?

There are a variety of ways to make your senior dog's life easier with vision loss. This includes keeping their environment consistent (by keeping furniture in the same place, for example) and providing plenty of mental stimulation (with interactive toys or games). You can also help by providing your pet with regular physical activities like walks and swimming.

6. Are there any treatments available for vision loss in senior dogs?

Yes, there are a variety of treatments available for vision loss in senior dogs. This can include medications, surgery, and other medical interventions, depending on the cause and severity of the condition. It's important to speak with your vet to determine the best course of treatment for your senior pet.

Conclusion

Vision loss in senior dogs can be a frightening and difficult condition to manage, but with early diagnosis and treatment, the quality of life for your pet can be improved. If you notice any of the warning signs of vision loss in your senior dog, contact your vet as soon as possible. They will be able to advise you on the best course of treatment and medications that could help.

Nicole Etolen
Hi there! I'm Nicole, the editor-in-chief and one of the writers here at DogVills. I've been a dog owner for most of my adult life and a dog lover for much longer than that. I grew up with a wonderful German Shepherd named Jake, who I loved SO much that I named my son after him. When I'm not writing for DogVills or my own site, Pretty Opinionated , I love spending time with my teenager (when he actually lets me) and my Pharaoh Hound, Freya. I'm also an avid reader AND a total TV fanatic. If you'd like to learn more about me, feel free to check out my Linked In profile.

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