Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Visual impairment or blindness is a common occurrence in dogs. This condition mostly occurs when dogs get old, although there are other causes as well. Dogs, just like human beings, can develop eye problems like glaucoma and cataracts, among other problems that are related to visual impairment.
When you notice your dog having difficulty moving around, then that might be a sign that your dog is going blind, either from one or both eyes, or is suffering from partial vision loss. To gain a preliminary insight on your dog's vision, there are a number of dog eyesight tests you can do right at home to determine whether your dog has any form of visual impairment.
If you notice any changes in your dog's eyes and vision, an immediate visit to the vet can be of great help if done promptly as your dog’s vision can be restored — at least partially, if not fully, in some cases. Dogs suffering from eye problems should see their vet as soon as possible, within 24 hours is best.
Here are some of the dog eyesight tests you can conduct at home by yourself to determine the condition of your dog’s eyesight as you prepare for the appointment with the vet:
5 Ways to Test Your Dog's Vision
- Dog Obstacle Course
- The Menace Response Test
- The Pupillary Light Reflex (PLR)
- The Dazzle Test
- The Cotton Ball Test
With eyes we do not recommend waiting because delay in treatment can sometimes affect the outcome significantly, and some eye problems are very painful.
— Dr. Scott DVM
1. Dog Obstacle Course
This test can be easily conducted from home—in the back yard or in a large, empty space to facilitate easy movement. In involves setting up an obstacle course for the dog. Create an obstacle course around the yard or room using various objects of different shapes and sizes. The objects can be ordinary items like chairs or bins. Use whatever you want, just make sure to establish a clear course path.
Let your dog negotiate the maze-like course and see how effectively he handles it. Position yourself at the end of the course and call your dog towards you. Be careful not to be overenthusiastic as this may cause the dog to rush, hence creating an ineffective assessment.
If you have stairs in your home and your dog has handled them well in the past, observing your dog going up or down a flight of stairs can provide insight on vision impairment. Be careful to be in a position where you can prevent your dog from getting injured from a fall in case he misses the steps! A dog who is reluctant or hesitant to go up or down stairs may be showing signs of vision impairment, but it's important to consider that a this reluctance can also be indicative of orthopedic problems, so more testing may be needed.
Since some eyesight conditions (like retinopathies) are inherited, it would be advantageous if the obstacle course test is done in both scotopic and photopic (dark and light) conditions.
2. The Menace Response Test
Just like humans, dogs blink when something gets close to their eyes. This test is performed by quickly passing an object close to your dog’s eye to test his blinking reflex. The test should be done is a room that has normal lighting. The technique, however, has to be done carefully so as not to hurt the dog.
There is more to this test than just waving an object or your hand close to the dog’s eyes. For effectiveness, test each eye individually. Be careful not to create air currents when moving your hand or the object you are using and avoid touching his whiskers. You can use a plastic screen, if possible.
In a healthy dog with good eyesight, he will reflexively blink quickly to shield his eyes from any object that could hurt them. This is an automatic defense response. A visually impaired dog will not blink or the response speed will be much slower.
3. The Pupillary Light Reflex (PLR)
This test is useful to determine the health of the eye’s optic nerve, retina oculomotor nerve, and the optic chiasma. A simple way to handle this test is by use of a flashlight.
You will need to perform this test in a room that has limited light. Hold the flashlight one or tow inches from the eye and take note of the behavior of the pupil. For a normal and healthy dog, the pupils will contract (get smaller) upon being subjected to light. When it is dark, the dog's pupils will dilate (get bigger) to facilitate better vision.
If your shine the light on the dog’s eye and notice that your dog's pupils are still dilated, then this is a clear indicator that your dog is suffering from visual problems as he is not able to detect light easily. See your vet promptly if your dog's pupil fails to respond to light.
4. The Dazzle Test
This test is almost similar to the pupillary light reflex since it involves the use of some bright light. You are required to shine a bright light onto the dog’s eyes suddenly.
The whole point of this test is to watch out for the reflex blink; which is expected for a normal and visually healthy dog. This test gives an indication of the state of the dog’s retina. Lack of the reflex blink is a clear indication that your dog is developing some eye complications and may be suffering from visual impairment.
5. The Cotton Ball Test
This test’s main aim is to test the dog’s ability to follow movements. Since dogs are natural hunters and can catch fast-moving prey, a fail of this test is a clear indicator of vision impairment for your dog.
This test requires a cotton ball and a well-lit space. Cover one of the eyes and switch after the first test to know if it is only one eye or both of the eyes that are visually impaired. After covering an eye, drop a cotton ball about six inches away from the dog. The cotton ball works well considering that it doesn't make an audible thud when it lands.
Normally, the dog will react to by not only moving their eye but also sniffing (or—be careful—trying to eat!) the cotton ball when it lands. Recording the whole test or using a second set of eyes can be very helpful in detecting the small reactions that may not be visible easily when performing the test on your dog by yourself.
Dog Vision Problems Need to Be Diagnosed by a Vet
As seen, these tests can be helpful in testing your dog's vision at home, but it's important considering that they only provide an insight and only your vet can diagnose vision problems in your dog.
If your suspect vision problems in your dog, see your vet promptly. Not acting in prompt manner can prove disadvantageous to the dog and the chances of your dog going totally blind can keep growing with every minute that passes if you don't see the vet in a timely manner.
As such, ensure that immediately upon noticing any abnormalities with your dog’s eyes or vision, you make an appointment with the veterinarian. Some of the common complications can be treated and there may be chances that the healthy visual status of your may be dog restored.
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog is showing signs of eye problems or vision loss, see your vet promptly for proper diagnosis and treatment. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have a young rescue dog. I'm wondering about her ability to focus. She gazes at squirrels and looks in their direction. When I drop a treat she doesn't follow it as it hits the floor. Is there something that can correct sight issues?
Answer: Using treats to evaluate eyesight may not be very accurate considering that dogs use their nose and they can hear the sound when it hits the floor. It would be interesting seeing if your dog would be able to catch treats tossed her way with her mouth. Does she follow a ball rolled on a carpet? You would have to have your dog's eyesight evaluated by a vet for an accurate assessment. Whether eye issues can be corrected or not ultimately depends on the underlying cause. There are some eye problems that can be reversed, but some cannot.
© 2017 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 07, 2017:
Thanks for stopping by Heidi! My dogs are getting older too and their eyes are getting that light clouding seen in seniors (nuclear sclerosis). I am keeping an eye (pun intended) on their eyesight because dogs are good to compensate and early eye issues may be missed.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 07, 2017:
As our dogs are getting older, we've been watching for signs that their eyesight may be failing. We have the vet check them on their regular visits. But it's good to have some at-home screening tests as well. Thanks for sharing!