SARDS in Dogs: What You Need to Know

SARDS in Dogs

SARDS in Dogs: Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome, or SARDS, is an autoimmune disease in dogs that causes sudden blindness. With SARDS, the dog’s immune system attacks the retina, damaging the light-sensitive rods and cones. This results in permanent vision loss, often quite rapidly.

SARDS in Dogs

Common Symptoms of SARDS

One of the first signs your dog has developed SARDS is when their eyes seem to lose focus or wander, even though they can still see.

1. Vision Loss

As the disease progresses, your dog will start bumping into furniture, walls, and other objects because their vision has become impaired or lost. Total blindness usually develops within weeks to months. Your dog may seem disoriented, confused or lost.

2. Disorientation and Confusion

Your dog may startle easily or be hesitant walking around. Their eyes may no longer react to visual stimuli like quickly moving objects, lights or laser pointers.

3. Lack of Visual Reaction

Your dog’s pupils will no longer constrict in bright light. In fact, their pupils will remain dilated even in well-lit areas.

4. Dilated Pupils

Some dogs experience changes in their sleep-wake cycle. They may sleep more during the day and wander around at night since they can’t see.

5. Change in Sleep Patterns

As scary as these symptoms are, the good news is SARDS is not painful for dogs. However, their loss of vision can be distressing and disorienting. With your patience, love and support, dogs can adapt well to a life without sight. Early diagnosis and treatment may potentially slow down vision loss, so if you notice any symptoms of SARDS in your dog, consult your vet right away.

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Diagnosing SARDS in Dogs

SARDS in dogs is diagnosed through a process of elimination. Your vet will first rule out other potential causes of sudden blindness before determining SARDS is the culprit.

The first step is a thorough medical exam to check for any visible abnormalities. Your vet will look for signs of eye injury, infection, or other issues. If nothing obvious is found, further testing will be needed.

Blood tests and urine analysis can determine whether there are any metabolic causes of blindness or other health issues present. Thyroid levels and blood pressure will also be evaluated.

Eye exams are a critical part of the diagnostic process. Your vet will check for retinal detachment or degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts. Electroretinography (ERG) tests the function of the retina and optic nerve. If results are normal, SARDS becomes the most likely diagnosis.

Some vets may recommend an MRI or CT scan to rule out any tumors or other neurological problems. A spinal tap can also check for inflammation or other abnormalities of the central nervous system.

The challenge in diagnosing SARDS is that all tests may come back normal, even though the dog has gone blind. SARDS is known as a diagnosis of exclusion since there are no definitive tests. The sudden onset of blindness, lack of visible eye problems, and normal test results collectively point to SARDS.

While it can be a frustrating process, early diagnosis and treatment of SARDS is critical to managing the condition and maintaining your dog’s quality of life. With time and adjustment, dogs can adapt well to vision loss from SARDS and continue to live happily with the help of their loving owners.

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Treatment Options for Dogs With SARDS

Once diagnosed, the treatment options focus on managing your dog’s vision loss and helping them adapt. Unfortunately, there’s no way to reverse the damage from SARDS, but with time and patience, many dogs can live happily with limited vision.

1. Environmental Changes

You’ll need to make some adjustments around the house to create a safe space for your dog. Place non-slip rugs or mats on hard floors, install baby gates to block off stairs, and avoid rearranging the furniture. Familiar surroundings will help your dog navigate confidently. You should also consider using scented candles or essential oil diffusers in different rooms so your dog can start to identify spaces by smell.

2. Ophthalmic Medications

Eye drops or ointments may be prescribed to reduce inflammation, lubricate the eyes, or treat any secondary eye infections. Administer as directed for the best results. Some dogs may need to use prescription eye medications long-term to keep their eyes healthy and comfortable.

3. Supplements

Certain supplements, like antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and lutein, may help support eye and brain health in dogs with SARDS. Talk to your vet about appropriate supplements and dosage for your dog.

4. Training and Socialization

It’s important to continue training, socializing and playing with your dog. Engage their other senses with interactive dog toys that make sounds or disperse treats. Teach them voice commands and continue leash training to help build confidence. Spending quality time with your dog each day will help reduce anxiety or depression from their vision loss.

With time and patience, you’ll find what works best to keep your dog happy, healthy, and safe despite struggling with SARDS. Staying optimistic and being your dog’s faithful companion will make a world of difference in their quality of life.

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What causes SARDS in dogs?

The exact cause of SARDS is still unknown. However, it’s thought to be an immune-mediated disease, meaning the dog’s own immune system attacks the tissues in the eyes that are responsible for vision. Researchers believe there may be a genetic component as well, as some breeds like Schnauzers, Labradors, Siberian Huskies and Samoyeds seem to be predisposed to developing SARDS.

Is there a cure for SARDS?

Unfortunately, there is currently no known cure for SARDS. However, some treatments may help slow the progression or provide temporary improvements in vision. The most common treatments are immunosuppressive drugs like corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, and antioxidants which may help support retinal health. Acupuncture and laser therapy are alternative options some owners have found helpful as well.

How quickly do dogs lose their vision with SARDS?

Vision loss in SARDS can happen very quickly, sometimes within a matter of days or weeks. Initially, owners may notice their dog struggling with navigating in low light, seeing objects at a distance, or acting fearful in familiar environments. Sadly, most dogs with SARDS ultimately lose vision in both eyes, though some may retain limited sight or light perception. The speed of vision loss can vary from dog to dog, but it’s best to have your vet examine your dog as soon as you suspect any changes in their vision.

How do I care for a blind dog?

Caring for a blind dog requires patience, time, and consistency. It’s important to keep a regular routine and avoid rearranging furniture in the home. You’ll need to verbally guide your dog around obstacles and be very careful not to startle them. Teaching voice commands and keeping them on a leash in unfenced areas is also helpful for their safety. With time and practice, many blind dogs can continue to live happily and navigate well in their surroundings. The key is providing a stable, loving environment for your dog to thrive in despite their vision loss.