When did you last visit the optometrist? Perhaps you struggle to read on your phone or maybe the world has slipped out of focus. Whatever prompted the visit, the chances are getting an eyesight test is part of your routine medical care, just like visiting the dentist or getting a medical checkup.
But what about your dog? For one thing, if dogs don't get eyesight issues then couldn't we learn their secret? For another, if they do need glasses and don't get them, then why not?
Can Dogs Get Glasses?
Actually, dogs can and do suffer from poor eyesight, it's just that they don't make a habit of reading or driving so we tend not to know about it. But it's also true that many of the sight issues from which dogs' suffer are different from people problems, and glasses aren't necessarily the answer.
Let's take a closer look at the options available to focus our dog's attention.
Does My Dog Need Glasses?
How on earth do you get a dog to read an eye chart?
Perhaps you could change the letters to 'bones' and teach the dog to bark out the number of bones they see. Crazy idea? Yep, can't see this happening.
However, what you can do is be alert for signs of impaired vision. These include:
Dragging behind on a walk
Refusal to move in unfamiliar surroundings
Out of character snappiness when touched unexpectedly
Bumping into objects in their path
Large dilated pupils that don't get smaller in bright light
In addition, there is an argument that all dogs who spend time outdoors, should wear doggy sunglasses. This is because UV exposure is just as damaging to a dog's retina as to a human's.
How Do I Correct My Dog's Eyesight?
Key to correcting eyesight problems is identifying the root cause. Where treatments are available, this can help slow deterioration and preserve existing eyesight.
Glaucoma: This is an increase of pressure within the eyeball. It compresses the retina, which damages it and impairs vision.
Cataracts: The lens should be transparent so light passes through to the back chamber of the eye. Cataracts are a cloudiness of the lens, which stops light reaching the light sensitive layers.
Retinopathy: Sadly, many dog breeds have hereditary diseases that lead to the early death of the all-important light-sensitive layer, the retina.
High Blood Pressure: Hypertension causes the retina to lift away from the back of the eye, causing blindness.
Be alert for changes in your dog's habits, such as increased thirst, and see your vet. They can identify underlying problems such as diabetes or Cushing's disease, which can impact eyesight. In addition, to test the dog's eyesight, veterinary ophthalmological specialists use a similar technique to that used in children who are too young to speak.
How is Poor Eyesight Similar in Dogs and Humans?
Loss of vision or poor eyesight makes a dog less able to cope in places that aren't familiar to them. Indeed, it's often when an owner goes on a new walk and the dog freezes and refuses to move forward, that they first become aware there is an issue.
The commonest reason for a dog to wear prescription glasses is after a cataract has been surgically removed. The surgeon may implant a replacement lens, but if this isn't possible, then corrective doggy glasses can help correct their extreme long-sightedness… and help them find those treats and biscuits a bit more easily.
How is Poor Eyesight Different in Dogs and Humans?
To start with, a dog's normal eyesight is less pin-sharp than a person's. Meaning, if a dog held a driver's license, even with 'normal' doggy vision they'd need corrective spectacles.
It also matters that people have poor eyesight for different reasons than dogs. Human sight problems are often the result of poor lens accommodation or odd-shaped eyeballs, which are easily correctable with spectacles.
Dogs, however, are more likely to suffer from inherited degenerative conditions of the retina, glaucoma, or cataracts. Another key difference is that dogs adjust super-well to poor eyesight. Their already acute sense of smell, touch, and hearing take on extra duties, which enables the dog to navigate seamlessly around a familiar place or walk, and so they are arguably less dependant on good vision to get around.
A diabetic dog had developed cataracts as a complication of their condition. With the diabetes now stabilized, the dog is referred to a specialist for cataract removal. However, after surgery, the dog still struggles when taken on new walks.
Using a similar device to human optometrists, the veterinary ophthalmologist assesses the dog's refractive index and issues a pair of corrective doggy goggles. Now the dog's vision is vastly improved and he is able to once more enjoy a game of ball to the full. Happy days!