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Whether sudden or gradual, vision loss in pets can impact the lives of both animals and their owners. "Vision is important to cats and dogs, as well as to humans," says AVMA member Tammy Sadek, DVM and Diplomate at the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. "Often blindness occurs initially in only one eye and is not noticed by the pet parent until the other eye is also affected. As a rule, blindness from most causes becomes more common with age in both dogs and cats."
Unfortunately, if the blindness isn't sudden, Debra F. Horwitz, DVM and Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, says it may take some time for owners to realize that their dog or cat has suffered vision loss. "As their sight slowly diminishes, they use their other senses (smell or air current on whiskers) to navigate a familiar environment," she explains. Interested in learning more about what signs to look for when a pet is losing its sight? We asked both veterinarians to share their insight, and here's what they had to say.
They're bumping into things.
Although a pet may have diminishing eyesight for some time, Dr. Horwitz says the first sign of blindness that owners usually notice is that they're having trouble walking. "If a dog or cat starts bumping into things, especially when it's dark or something unfamiliar is in their path, it often signifies some vision loss," she explains.
They're scared of the dark.
If your pet is reluctant to go outside when it's dark or to enter poorly lit areas of your home, both veterinarians warn this could be a sign of vision loss. "Pets with gradual onset blindness may have reduced vision initially at night, so a pet that is reluctant to go out at night should be evaluated," Dr. Sadek explains. Additionally, Dr. Horowitz says that pets that are unwilling to go up and down the stairs in low light, or that avoid dark rooms in your house altogether, might be losing their sight.
They get agitated when touched.
If you notice your dog or cat is responding more aggressively to touch or sudden movements, Dr. Horwitz says this could indicate vision loss. "If a dog or cat doesn't see or hear the person reaching out to them, and are surprised or agitated when petted, it's often associated with blindness," Dr. Horwitz says. "To avoid startling a blind dog, speak to them before reaching out to touch or pick them up."
Their eyes change.
Along with behavioral changes, Dr. Sadek says that pets that are losing their sight might start to look different, too. "Any pet with changes in the appearance of one or both eyes such as haziness or a change in color of the iris, non-symmetrical pupils, or evidence of redness or pain needs to be evaluated by their veterinarian immediately, as some diseases are reversible if caught early," she explains.
If your pet doesn't seem to move around as much at home, Dr. Sadek says it may be a result of vision loss. "Pets, especially cats, who are blind may not move much from their resting place," she says. "Offer ramps or pet stairs for the pet to reach preferred resting places, and place food and water in easily accessed areas. Litter boxes should be on each level of the home."