Blindness and Loss of Vision in Dogs

Published on
Last updated on
4 min read

Key takeaways

Blindness refers to loss of vision, either due to a problem within the eye itself, or within the nerves or brain affecting the processing of visual input from the eyes.

  • Vision loss can affect one eye or both, and be partial or complete
  • In dogs, blindness can be caused by any number of conditions, including injuries, cancer, infections, and toxicosis
  • Dogs can live a good quality of life with impaired vision, as they easily compensate by using their other senses
  • If acute, blindness manifests with dogs bumping into things, becoming easily startled, or appearing lost
  • When blindness develops gradually and a dog’s environment remains consistent, blindness may be difficult to detect, as dogs do not rely on vision like people do
  • Diagnostics include a physical examination, ophthalmic exam, diagnostic imaging, and bloodwork
  • Treatment depends on the underlying condition
Are you concerned?

Connect with a vet to get more information about your pet’s health.

Book an online vet

A closer look: Blindness and Loss of Vision in Dogs

Dogs are very good at using senses other than eyesight to navigate their environment, and loss of vision usually does not have a significant impact on quality of life, especially if it develops gradually.

Blindness can develop quickly (acutely) or gradually (chronically). Animals with chronically deteriorating vision may appear to be unaffected if their living conditions remain consistent, as they are already familiar with the layout of their environment.

Sudden, acute vision loss may be distressing, as affected dogs need time to acclimatize themselves to the change. Any sudden onset of vision loss requires urgent medical attention.

It is not always possible to restore vision, although this does not typically impact quality of life. Pet parents can do a number of things to help a dog get used to vision loss, including:

  • Keeping a consistent and unchanging living environment
  • Ensuring that their dog is on a leash while outside, and not leaving them unattended
  • Relying on other senses while communicating, such as by teaching and learning new commands that do not rely on vision
  • Using barriers, such as baby gates, especially at stair tops to prevent falling and injury

Possible causes

Generally speaking, vision loss is usually caused by disruption or injury to the structures of the eye, or disruption in the brain that prevents translation of signals from the eyes into vision.

Risk factors

Blindness is uncommon in dogs, although some breeds are more predisposed to developing conditions that result in blindness than others.

Blindness can be partial (difficulty seeing) or complete. Blindness can affect one eye (unilateral) or both eyes (bilateral).

Blindness can present as a solitary symptom, or alongside other symptoms, depending on the underlying cause.

Any sudden onset of vision loss is a medical emergency. Urgent veterinary attention is the best chance of restoring vision and identifying more serious neurological risks.

Testing and diagnosis

Dogs’ other senses are usually very potent, making it difficult to identify blindness in many cases. Diagnostics include:

  • A physical examination
  • Ophthalmic exam
  • Bloodwork
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Cytology
  • Biopsy
  • Infectious disease testing

Treatment varies depending on the underlying cause, typically consisting of:

  • Topical medications
  • Antibiotics
  • Steroids
  • Pain relievers
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Surgery
  • Palliative care

Similar symptoms

Checking for vision loss in dogs isn’t straightforward, as anything that makes a noise, breeze, scent, or is otherwise detectable can stimulate a blind dog to turn its head towards the signal.

Vision loss can be mistaken for cognitive disruption or loss of consciousness, as dogs with vision issues do not respond to visual stimuli.

Associated symptoms


No Author - Writing for The American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists
Elizabeth Riley, Veterinary Student Class of 2023 - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Dr. Noelle McNabb - Writing for PetPlace
Stephanie Gibeault, MSc, CPDT - Writing for The American Kennel Club
Sara M. Thomasy , DVM, PhD, DACVO - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
No Author - Writing for Today's Veterinary Practice
Rhea Morgan, DVM, DACVIM, DACVO - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Brady Beale, VMD, DACVO - Writing for The American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists
Jeffrey Bowersox, DVM, DACVO - Writing for The American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists
DJ Haeussler, JR., BS, MS, DVM, DACVO; Christina Korb, DVM - Writing for The American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists

Our editorial committee

Our medical review team is responsible for validating and maintaining the quality of our medical information.