Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Vision Loss Need Not Affect Pets' Quality of Life

Pet Column for the week of April 30, 2007

Related information:

Services - Ophthalmology

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Sarah Dowling
Information Specialist

Pets experience many of the same eye problems as humans: glaucoma, cataracts, corneal ulcers, and infections. Like humans, pets with these conditions likely need treatment from an eye specialist.

Dr. Carrie Breaux, a veterinary ophthalmologist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, Ill., says there are many signs that a pet is having eye problems. These include squinting, tearing, color change in any part of the eye, change in size or shape of the eye, and acute onset of vision problems.

Pets with any of these signs need to see a veterinarian immediately. Excess tearing or squinting may not seem worrisome, but diseases of the eye progress rapidly and are generally easier and less expensive to treat if caught early.

Many eye problems can be corrected with treatment, either by a generalist veterinarian or by a veterinary ophthalmologist, depending on the complexity of the case. Unfortunately, some pets eventually do lose their vision, whether due to a degenerative disease, trauma, or an unknown cause.

Loss of vision is understandably difficult for both the animal and the owner, but it does not necessarily mean a poor quality of life for the animal. Most blind pets do very well. Dr. Breaux shares these simple guidelines for owners to help their pet adjust to its new world.

"Owners must be cognizant that their animals can no longer see," explains Dr. Breaux. "I recommend using more toys with sound or smell, not moving furniture in the pet's environment, and placing safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs to prevent injury."

As the pet is adjusting to its condition, the owner must be sure to keep the animal safe. For dog owners this may include fencing the yard, using a shorter leash on walks, and gating off any area of the house or yard that may put the dog in danger.

Dr. Breaux notes that cats are incredibly resilient animals and will usually adapt very quickly to loss of vision. Cat owners may want to consider moving the food and water bowls, as well as the litter box, to areas that are easily accessible and do not require the animal to jump from extreme heights.

Blind animals should never be allowed to venture outside except in a pen or on a leash. Animals may become easily disoriented and may be injured or killed if allowed to roam freely.

How quickly and successfully an animal adapts depends on the species as well as the owner's actions and the animal's environment. "I have even heard of pets in multiple-animal households adapting more quickly because the other animals will act as 'seeing-eye' dogs or cats to the blind animal," says Dr. Breaux.

If you have any questions about eye disorders or if you notice signs of irritation, pain, discharge, or redness in your pet's eyes, please contact your local veterinarian.