As a dog owner, you can most likely attest to the connection you feel when gazing into your furry friend’s eyes. Understanding those eyes can lead to a stronger, deeper relationship as you learn to interpret when he may be trying to tell you something, or when he simply wants some quality time with his human. However, it’s important to also be aware of the physical changes and potential health issues that can occur when those irresistible puppy dog eyes become, well, senior dog eyes.
Common Eye Problems in Senior Dogs
Just like humans, your dog will become more susceptible to health problems as he ages. Some eye problems can be a natural result of aging, caused by general wear and tear. Others may be a more direct result of an injury, or other serious health issues. With an understanding of common eye problems in senior dogs, you can catch any potentially serious issues early. Read on to learn about common eye problems in senior dogs.
Cataracts are a frequently occurring ailment among senior dogs, commonly first showing up in dogs who are around 6 to 8 years old. However, cataracts can affect dogs anywhere from puppyhood to old age, as they can be a result of trauma or infection to the eye. The change begins in the center of the lens and moves outward, which makes the eyes appear to be cloudy. Over time, the eyesight of a dog with cataracts will get progressively worse—luckily, cataracts are not painful, and can sometimes be treated with surgery.
Cataracts are often confused with their less severe counterpart, nuclear sclerosis.
Nuclear sclerosis is a normal change that occurs in senior dogs—it happens because the layers of cells within the eye become packed together more tightly over time, as new layers are added. Similar to cataracts, your dog’s eyes will appear to be increasingly cloudy over time. While nuclear sclerosis may slightly affect vision (think of a middle-aged human needing reading glasses), it does not result in a complete loss of eyesight.
Glaucoma occurs as a result of excessive pressure in the eye when fluid doesn’t properly drain, leading to optic nerve and retina damage. It can be painful for your pup and if not treated properly, glaucoma can result in blindness. As with cataracts and nuclear sclerosis, cloudy eyes are a symptom of glaucoma. Other symptoms include eye tearing, redness and bulging, and dilated pupils. Surgery and medication can help to alleviate symptoms of glaucoma.
The eyes are a very vulnerable part of the body. Any dog, regardless of age, could get something in his eye (dirt, dust, seeds, etc.) or end up with a scratched eye from a stick or even a confrontation with another animal. If you notice that your canine pal is showing signs of discomfort such as blinking a lot, keeping the eye shut, or tearing, it’s helpful to flush the affected eye with artificial tears if possible. Otherwise, keep (your own) eye on the issue—it never hurts to call the vet just to be sure. Many seemingly minor eye problems can turn into something serious without much warning.
Caring for a blind dog
If your furry senior citizen ends up losing his vision entirely, don’t fret—unlike humans, dogs can rely on their other senses (such as smell and sound) more heavily than sight. You’ll still have to be intentional about the changes you make around the house, though, to ensure as comfortable of a transition as possible. For example:
- Keep the environment as familiar as possible. Don’t rearrange the furniture or move the food bowls. If a change absolutely must be made, help your dog recognize the changes—this could involve walking him on a leash around the house and yard as you guide him with the sound of your voice.
- Keep the floor clear of clutter to ensure that your dog can follow a reliable path throughout the house.
- Be aware of hazards, such as sharp objects and furniture, or low branches in the yard. You may need to add corner protectors to your table, carpet to slippery surfaces, or texture to clearly indicate the last step on the staircase.
- Cater to his other senses, like adding non-toxic scent extracts to mark important landmarks throughout the house.
- Don’t approach your dog by surprise. Give audible warnings whenever you’re near, and warn others to do the same to avoid catching Fido off guard.
If your senior dog’s vision loss is more gradual, start preparing him for these changes early on so that it comes as less of a shock. If blindness occurs more suddenly, your dog will understandably be more anxious and confused, so be patient with him as he learns to navigate his environment in a new way. You and your pal already have a close bond, so he’ll be trusting you just as much as before, if not more. Reduced vision doesn’t need to mean a reduced quality of life—while you may need to get more creative, there’s no reason you need to stop playing and exercising together.
Become familiar with your dog’s eyes, and check frequently for anything that seems abnormal. It’s also helpful if your pooch maintains a healthy diet and lifestyle overall. Pet Honesty’s Senior 10-For-1 Multivitamin Chews address many issues that senior dogs commonly deal with, including deteriorating vision.
Do not attempt to diagnose or medicate your pup without a vet’s recommendation—leave that to the professionals.