Blindness in dogs

isolated dog

Overview

  • Depending on the cause, blindness can develop very suddenly, or very gradually.
  • Most dogs are very good at adapting to gradual blindness and as a result, it can be surprisingly difficult to notice. Sudden blindness is much more obvious and most dogs find it difficult to adapt.
  • There are many causes of blindness – some are treatable, some are not.
  • Book an appointment with your vet if you suspect your dog is losing their sight.

How can I tell if my dog is blind?

Signs to look out for include:

  • Changes in the appearance of the eye
  • Clumsiness
  • Not wanting to go out at night
  • Being easily startled and nervous
  • Bumping into people, walls or furniture
  • Getting lost outside
  • Walking slowly and cautiously
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Being unable to find toys, balls, food dishes.
Photo of dog with cataracts in both eyes

This dog has cataracts in both eyes

Causes

Possible causes of blindness include:

Cataracts. Changes to the lens inside the eye(s); common in older dogs and diabetics.

Glaucoma. Increased pressure inside the eye.

Uveitis. Inflammation inside the eye.

Retinal disease. Disease at the back of the eye such as retinal detachment, SARDS and PRA.

Optic nerve disease. A problem with the nerve that connects the brain to the eye.

Collie eye anomaly. An inherited problem that can affect Collie breeds.

Brain disease. Such as a bleed, stroke, tumour or infection.

General disease. Diseases in another part of the body can sometimes cause blindness e.g. diabetes.

Serious eye injuries. Serious injuries to the front, back or whole eye can cause blindness.

Tumours in the eye. Tumours in and around the eye can cause blindness.

Breed specific causes. Some breeds of dog are prone to developing certain conditions that can cause blindness; check out our breed cards for more information.

Gradual vs sudden loss of vision

Blindness can develop suddenly or gradually depending the cause.

Gradual loss of vision.

It can be surprisingly difficult to notice a gradual loss of vision because dogs are good at adapting. You may notice behaviour changes – they might find it harder to see in dim light, bump into items lying around the house and struggle in unfamiliar places. Dogs that lose their vision gradually often adapt well and lead a very happy life.

Sudden loss of vision.

If your dog has suddenly gone blind, the symptoms will be much more obvious. They are likely to be frightened, stand still, walk very cautiously and bump into things. If your dog has suddenly lost their vision, it’s important to consider their quality of life when deciding on a treatment plan with your vet. Sadly, it may be kinder to put your dog to sleep if they are struggling to cope.

When to contact your vet

Contact your vet for an appointment if you notice any changes with your dog’s eyes, or if you think they are having problems with their vision. Some causes of blindness are reversible and the sooner treatment is given, the better the chance of regaining vision.

You know your dog best. Contact your vet if you’re concerned.

Caring for a blind dog

If you've been told your dog is losing their sight, or if you're thinking about adopting a blind dog, there are some simple things you can do to help them adjust. 

Read our full article for more information.

Published: August 2019

Lucky's real-life story

Border Terrier, Lucky, was born without retinas which left him completely blind. Lucky had the support of his father, Scruff, who now acts as his own guide dog! 

Read Lucky's incredible story and find out how he's adapting to life without his sight. 

Scruff and Lucky together

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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst