When Jet was around twelve-years-old his eyes started to get cloudy. Now, cloudiness in the eyes isn’t necessarily a sign that your dog may be losing their sight, but it is a sign of aging which brings with it the possibility of diminished sight.
Frequently dog owners confuse clouding of the eyes, called nuclear sclerosis, with cataracts and assume that their dog is losing their vision.
Nuclear sclerosis doesn’t mean that your dog is going blind, but it does mean that the lens of their eye is becoming denser as a natural result of aging. This increased density can mean that your dog has more trouble with depth perception, sensitivity to bright light, trouble seeing smaller objects, or trouble seeing things that are quite close to them, though.
In comparison, cataracts are not a natural part of aging for all dogs, but they do tend to happen most often as a result of aging. As the eye ages, the proteins within the eye can begin to break down which causes the lens of the eye to become cloudy. This cloudiness is referred to as a cataract and it influences how light enters the eye and consequently, how well your dog is able to see. As more protein breakdown and inflammation occurs, it is possible that your dog may lose their sight completely.
So, how can you determine if your dog is losing their sight? The best and only true method of knowing the status of your dog’s sight is to consult your veterinarian. If your veterinarian suspects vision loss, particularly if your dog is not a senior, they may then refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist.
There are a few things that you can take note of at home, however, that will help to tip you off to a possible problem with your dog’s vision.
6 Signs That Your Dog May Be Losing Their Sight
1. Reluctance to descend stairs
A dog that once had no trouble descending stairs may begin to show reluctance. This reluctance does not mean that your dog is going to lose their sight completely – as I mentioned above, this can simply be a result of nuclear sclerosis – but it is a sign that your dog’s vision is worsening.
You can tell the difference between reluctance to tackle stairs due to arthritis or joint pain and reluctance due to the fact that your dog may be losing their sight because dogs with failing sight tend to show more reluctance when descending stairs. Dogs with pain, however, will show more reluctance when going up stairs than when going down.
If your dog has trouble with stairs due to their failing sight, invest in a harness like the Help ‘Em Up Harness so that you can help to guide your dog safely down the stairs.
2. Difficulty Navigating at Night
Loss of night vision is often the first sign of failing sight. A dog that once had no trouble navigating at night may begin showing signs of difficulty getting around such as tripping, walking into objects, and stumbling. This difficulty in navigation can happen in familiar and unfamiliar territory.
One way to test if your dog may be losing their sight at home is to wait until nightfall. Turn off the lights in a familiar room, move some of your furniture around in that room, and then bring your dog into the room. See how they navigate the new changes in the room without prior knowledge of them. A dog with perfect sight will be able to walk around the new obstacles by relying on their night vision. If, however, your dog is relying on a mental map of the room due to their failing sight, they will bump into the recently moved furniture.
If your dog has failing night vision, you can assist them by using nightlights in your home and flashlights when outdoors at night time. You should also avoid making any significant changes in the layout of your home so that your dog can rely on their mental map to get around.
3. Your Dog is Easily Startled
Dogs that are losing their sight are often easily startled because they fail to see certain objects within their field of vision. This often happens with the peripheral vision and can lead to nipping or biting behavior as an automatic fear response.
A dog that is easily startled does not necessarily have failing vision, they may also be having trouble with their hearing. Noticing a change in how easily your dog is startled, however, can tip you off to a sign that your dog’s senses are changing so that you can seek out vet care.
If your dog does begin to show signs of startling easily as a result of vision loss, you can assist them by announcing yourself and reminding others to announce themselves as well. Your dog will learn to rely more on their hearing as their sight declines.
4. Your Dog is Extremely Sensitive to Light
Some dogs experience a weakening of the muscles in the eye as they age. As a result of this muscle weakening, these dogs experience slower constriction of the pupil in bright light which results in excessive light entering the eye. This slow pupil constriction results in symptoms of light sensitivity. Symptoms include squinting, excessive blinking, eye watering, avoidance of bright lights, or pawing at the face.
While your dog may be losing their sight, there are some health conditions aside from natural degeneration of the eye that can cause photosensitivity. Certain medications can also cause sensitivity to light as well. It is important to consult your vet if you notice your dog showing any signs of light sensitivity so that you can establish its cause.
If your dog is experiencing light sensitivity due to degeneration of the muscles in the eye, you can assist them by investing in a pair of Doggles!
5. Your Dog Shows Caution or Hesitancy in New Territory
Dogs, like us, create a mental map of their territory – for example, your living room, your bedroom, their favorite park, etc. This mental map creates a picture of familiar territory so that even when your dog’s vision is failing, they can find their way around. Unfortunately, when visiting new places, your dog doesn’t have a mental map to rely on and this can result in excessive caution or hesitancy. Signs that your dog may be experiencing hesitancy as a result of their vision failing include high stepping, slow movement, holding the nose very closely to the ground, checking back in with you repeatedly, reluctance to take part in a favorite activity while in a new place, and unusual patterns of movement.
While hesitancy in new territory may be normal for some dogs, if your dog has always been an outgoing pup who wasn’t afraid to conquer anything and their behavior suddenly begins to change, then it’s time to pay your vet a visit because your dog may be losing their sight.
If your dog does show hesitancy in new territory due to vision loss there are a few things that you can do to help.
- Try using a harness to control your dog while giving them more of a sense of feeling safe.
- Invest in a ThunderShirt. The feeling of being swaddled is often enough to comfort your dog and give them a little more self-assurance.
- Talk to your dog while you are in unfamiliar territory so that they know that you are near.
- Before letting your dog loose in an unfamiliar contained area, walk them around the area on their leash and guide them around obstacles.
- If your older dog experiences a lot of distress as a result of being in new areas, it’s perfectly fine to limit them to familiar territory to reduce their discomfort.
6. Unusual Clinginess
Dogs that were once extremely independent may begin to show signs of being clingy and fearful of leaving your side. This is a result of both fear of the changes in their vision and the knowledge that you are a “safe space”. Your dog knows that you will protect them and they take comfort in this fact so it’s not unusual when a dog may be losing their sight for them to seek out that comfort.
If your dog begins to show signs of being unusually clingy there may be other explanations aside from vision loss (such as canine cognitive decline), but it is a sign that something is changing in your dog’s wellbeing. This means that it’s time to check in with your vet and when you do, make sure that you take detailed notes of your dog’s behavioral changes with you.
If your dog’s new clingy behavior is a result of vision loss, you can try implementing some of the tactics in #5 to provide your dog with more comfort and reassurance.