SARDS in dogs is a scary diagnosis, but dogs are amazingly adaptive creatures. They live in the here and now and learn how to navigate their world no matter what life brings their way.
SARDS in dogs is a rare disease that causes sudden blindness. Known as Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration, this disease remains somewhat of a mystery. Unfortunately, the onset of blindness from the time the dog begins to show signs is very quick. The diagnosis is devastating to dog owners, but it’s important to consider just how adaptive your dog really is.
There will be an adjustment period for the dog and the dog owners. Like any major change, it’s challenging at first. This post will help you get through the early days of living with a blind dog. Learn the 23 unique ways to care for a blind day and take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay.
Can SARDS in Dogs be Cured?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease as of this writing. What’s interesting is that the symptoms of SARDS in dogs seem to mimic autoimmune conditions like hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Syndrome).
Autoimmune diseases affect the skin, nerves, muscles, and the endocrine system. The endocrine system controls hormones and other chemicals within the body. When a dog or person has an autoimmune disorder, the immune system essentially turns against itself. Rather than working with the organs in the body, the immune system attacks.
Going from a perfectly sighted dog to a blind dog in a matter of weeks is a terrible shock to endure. Thankfully, otherwise healthy dogs can expect a normal lifespan. With a little help at home, your dog can enjoy a high quality of life.
What is the Lifespan of a Dog with SARDS?
SARDS in dogs is not fatal and the disease itself doesn’t determine the lifespan of your dog.
An otherwise healthy dog who develops SARDS will go on to live his/her full life. Life will be a little different, but there’s nothing stopping your dog from enjoying a good quality of life in a loving home.
Signs & Symptoms of SARDS in Dogs
The signs and symptoms of SARDS in dogs mimic those seen in dogs with Cushing’s Syndrome, and can include:
- Excessive urination (polyuria)
- Excessive hunger
- Extreme thirst (polydipsia)
- Weight gain
If the condition has already progressed, you might notice your dog doesn’t blink as often and has mildly red eyes. You may even notice that the pupils remain dilated and do not respond to light.
These signs can point to any number of conditions, including diabetes. You may or may not notice the signs until your dog begins to bump into furniture or act differently than normal. As the owner, you’ll know intuitively that something isn’t right. That’s when it’s time to have a licensed veterinarian perform an examination.
The average age of SARDS in dogs is between 7 and 10 years. Although any dog can develop sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome, there seems to be a higher representation in the following breeds:
- Miniature Schnauzers
Encouraging Results of an Abstract by: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association
…dogs in which SARDS was diagnosed at a younger age were more likely to have alleged partial vision and higher owner-perceived quality of life. Polyphagia was the only associated systemic sign found to increase in severity over time. Medical treatment was attempted in 22% of dogs; visual improvement was not detected in any. Thirty-seven percent of respondents reported an improved relationship with their dog after diagnosis, and 95% indicated they would discourage euthanasia of dogs with SARDS.Stuckey JA, Pearce JW, Giuliano EA, et al. Long-term outcome of sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013;243(10):1425‐1431. doi:10.2460/javma.243.10.1426
Can Blindness in Dogs be Temporary
Yes, partial blindness caused by things like glaucoma, cataracts, infection, tumors, injury, and other diseases can be treated. Things like age, underlying conditions, and the extent of illness/injury may determine how much sight is regained. SARDS in dogs cannot be cured or reversed.
How Do I Know if My Dog is Going Blind?
Dog owners know every nuance of their dog’s behaviour. Even if you can’t put your finger on it, you’ll know instinctively that something isn’t right. You might notice your dog’s sense of depth perception isn’t quite right or that he/she seems to be bumping into things more often.
Other signs that your dog is having vision problems include:
- White spots or cloudy eyes (could be cataracts or glaucoma)
- Unusually dilated pupils
- Reduced eye contact with you
- Suddenly bumping into furniture, etc.
It’s very important for the veterinarian to rule out causes of blindness like glaucoma. Unlike SARDS in dogs, glaucoma is a painful condition that can be treated if diagnosed early.
Other conditions that can cause retinal degeneration include uveitis, lens luxation, and optic nerve disease in dogs.
How SARDS Destroys a Dog’s Vision
The retina contains cells that are sensitive to light. These cells are called photoreceptors and they are divided into rod cells and cone cells.
Rods are responsible for vision at low light levels and cones cells are responsible for detecting color. With SARDS, both the rod cells and cone cells degenerate. Unfortunately, the onset of SARDS can happen quickly, resulting in complete blindness within weeks.
Approximately 60% of dogs with SARDS are female.Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, DACVIM, Pet Health Network
Diagnosing SARDS in Dogs
When you bring your dog to a veterinarian for examination, he/she will ask a series of questions to get a complete history of your dog’s health. Unless the signs of SARDS are immediately identified, the veterinarian will probably want to rule out conditions like Cushing’s Syndrome, glaucoma, cataracts, or other autoimmune related conditions.
25 Compassionate Ways to Care for a Blind Dog
As mentioned above, SARDS in dogs is not fatal. It does, however, require a little adjustment period. The following 25 ideas can help you to make the transition much easier for you, your family, and – most importantly – your dog.
#1. Safe Spaces
Having a safe space where your dog can roam freely without chance of harm is important, especially in the early days. As a loving dog owner, you may find yourself particularly nervous and not wanting to leave your dog alone. Unfortunately, that may not be realistic.
Depending on the size of your dog, you might consider a playpen or cordoned off area within your house. That will give you peace of mind without feeling the need to constantly watch over your dog. He/she won’t always need this, but it’s worth it in the early days until both you and your dog get accustomed to new routines.
#2. Speaking to a Dog with SARDS
Dogs find comfort in the sound of your voice. Just because his/her vision may be gone doesn’t mean they can’t hear you. Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your dog in public or at home. The sound of your voice reminds the dog that he/she is in a safe place.
#3. Medical Alert Tags
Getting used to caring for a blind dog might seem a little scary at first. The thought of letting a blind dog run loose with other dogs might seem impossible right now. However, in time, both you and your dog will gain increased confidence.
Dogs are smart creatures who adjust to new situations. As you allow your dog to explore the world, you may find comfort with a medical dog tag. Tags can be engraved to alert other dog owners that he/she is visually impaired.
#4. Baby Gates for Blind Dogs
You’ll be surprised how quickly your dog learns to move safely around the house. In the beginning, consider using a dog/baby to block off access to staircases or other areas where you don’t want your dog to wander off and get hurt.
#5. Check it Out At Their Level
It’s easy to miss things you would normally take for granted. When you look at your house from your dog’s point of view, you might notice things like sharp corners, dangling cords, space heaters, plants, and other things you don’t want your dog to get caught up in.
#6. Maintain Routine
It’s hard to go about business as usual when nothing feels “normal”. SARDS in dogs causes blindness but it doesn’t change your dog in any other way. Try to maintain as much of the dog’s regular routine as possible.
You might need to be more observant of signs your dog needs to go out than you were before. Restlessness and sniffing are your cue to call him/her to the door. Let his/her powerful sense of smell find all the things he’s used to.
A little encouragement goes a long way, so be sure to praise your dog as he/she adapts.
#7. Food & Drink Location
It’s easy to get carried away with moving and modifying the home but try to keep the most important things (the dog’s bed, food and drink location) in the same spot.
There’s a very good chance your dog will need very little help navigating the home. He/she still has that sensory capacity and spatial awareness so important in navigating the world, but why make it harder than it has to be?
#8. Educate Everyone!
The people who loved your dog before are still going to love your dog. It’s natural, however, for people to be unsure of how to interact with a blind dog. Encourage people to say the dog’s name before approaching. Watch for a friendly tail-wag and let the dog seek out the person rather than the other way around.
Consider getting a sign to alert neighbours and visitors that you have a blind dog. This is a good idea for dogs who don’t do well with other animals or strangers. The best thing you can do is to alert and educate people on how to approach (or not approach) your dog.
#9 Activate the Other Senses
If your dog’s favourite past-time was playing fetch before SARDS, the desire to do that will remain. The only difference now is the inability to see where the toy went. Whether playing indoors or outdoors, it’s important to buy toys that make a sound.
#10. Manage The SARDS Side-Effects
In addition to blindness, SARDS in dogs leaves a string of telltale signs that don’t go away. Increased hunger and thirst are common, so be aware of that on walks, car trips, trips to the park, etc. Consider packing some extra nutrition for your dog if you plan on being away from home for more than an hour.
Access to clean, fresh water is also important. It’s easy to bring water from home. Just fill a reusable bottle and keep a bowl in your car.
#11. Background Noise
Some dogs are more anxious than others. If your dog had separation anxiety before SARDS, he/she will still have separation anxiety after. Unfortunately, the adjustment to the loss of sight might take a little longer. If you sense that your is uneasy when you’re not in the same room, consider keeping a television on or play some music.
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#12. Comfy Crates
Having a comfortable place to rest is important, but being in a crate gives a dog a sense of safety and security. Dog crates have come a long way. You’ll want one big enough to fit dog bedding and a toy or two. Leave the crate door open and encourage your dog to venture inside during the day when you’re still home. Try to put the crate somewhere in the house where the dog won’t be startled by sudden noise.
If your highly sensitive smoke detector tends to go off easily, for example, make sure the crate is as far away as possible.
#13. Be Your Dog’s Sanctuary
It’s natural for you and your dog to feel a little off-kilter while you both adjust. During this transition, it’s important to keep calm and assertive. Any anxiety you’re feeling will also be felt by your dog. Try to avoid loud, sharp noises. Talk to your children about the need to be gentle with the dog and show them how to help him/her navigate the home.
A calm dog is able to learn more easily than an anxious dog. The faster he/she reintegrates into the home, the better. Some people like to play calming music for dogs.
#14. Sensory Notification
Your dog used to be able to navigate the house by sight. Now he/she will need other ways to tell where the door is, where the stairs are, etc. A few ways to accomplish this include adding a mat/carpet near entrances, or installing an inexpensive motion sensor that your dog will hear when he/she is close to a staircase or a door.
#15. Blind Dog Halo
As seen in the image below, blind dog harnesses and halos are perfect for dogs under 30 pounds. They’re lightweight and help blind dogs better navigate their world. This isn’t something your dog will need forever, but it’s a great way to help him/her in the early days.
#16. Reteaching Tricks to Dogs with SARDS
If you primarily trained your dog with visual cues (pointing, hand in the air, etc.) you may need to reinforce your commands with voice. It may require some patience, but it shouldn’t take long for your dog to respond. Start by saying the commands you normally would and see if he/she responds. You might be pleasantly surprised at the response.
If that doesn’t work, you could seek the advice of a dog trainer, take a course, or try gently guiding your dog to the command you’re asking. Be sure to reinforce good behaviour with lots of praise (and treats).
#17. SARDS in Dogs – Keep Things Familiar
Dogs will quickly learn how to navigate familiar surroundings. The best thing to do at this stage is nothing. Don’t move the furniture around, don’t buy new furniture, etc.
#18. Mental Stimulation
Keeping your dog happy will involve more than just your voice. Exercise is still as important as ever, but so is activating the brain. You’ll want to keep your dog mentally stimulated through taste, touch, and sound. There are a number of toys on the market (look for a snuffle mat!) to help with this.
#20. Microchip – SARDS in Dogs
Everyone should have their dog microchipped, particularly if you have a dog that tends to escape the backyard. Don’t be fooled by blindness. Your dog is still that same as he/she always was and as soon as the confidence returns, so will the instinct to run.
Some dog breeds pick up a scent and just follow it regardless of where it takes them. Unfortunately, this can lead to lost dogs in dangerous situations. If someone picks up your dog and brings him/her to the SPCA (for example) they can easily scan the dog for a microchip and locate its owner.
For more information on microchipping your dog, read: It’s National Chip Your Pet Month: Here’s How and Why You Should Do It
#21. GPS System
Stay connected with your dog 24/7 with Tractive GPS LIVE Tracking. You can eliminate all of your worries when you can see the exact trace of your four-legged friend. A Tractive device tells you the minute your dog leaves ANY pre-defined space. These are easy-to-use, are reasonably priced, and the perfect way to protect your dog.
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#22. Good Fencing
It’s common-sense, but good fencing around the yard is a good way to keep your dog from straying too far. It’s important to have a fence professionally installed to be sure there are no gaps or opportunities to dig under the fence.
#23. Take a Course
There are hundreds of online courses that are perfect for pet owners. You can find pretty much any course you need at Udemy.com, for example.
Summary – SARDS in Dogs
At the end of the day, we all want safe and happy dogs who live a very long time. SARDS in dogs is a devastating diagnosis, but there are so many things you can do to help your dog navigate the world. Dogs are adaptable.
It’s stressful in the beginning, but trust your dog’s ability to bounce back. You’ll be surprised! I hope these tips and tricks are useful to you and I wish you all the best in your new adventures.
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