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Blindness is a scary prospect in any context. But sudden blindness can be especially terrifying — especially for an animal who doesn’t understand what’s going on.  

Dogs and cats sometimes experience a phenomenon known as sudden blindness. This condition is often a sign of something more serious, such as a medical problem or eye disease. And when it strikes, both you and your pet might feel panicked and unsure of what to do. 

Here’s what you need to know about sudden blindness in dogs and cats. 

What is Sudden Blindness?

Sudden blindness is a condition that’s more likely to be experienced by older animals (such as senior cats with high blood pressure). 

The symptoms are pretty self-explanatory: your pet, who could formerly see just fine, suddenly goes blind. This vision loss could be permanent, or it could be temporary. Either way, it’s a major cause for concern.  

It’s important to figure out how long it took your pet's blindness to develop. In some cases, your pet might not be experiencing true sudden blindness. In fact, it may have occurred over time — a period of days, weeks, or even years in cats — before you noticed.1

How Do I Tell if my Pet is Experiencing Sudden Blindness?

If your pet suddenly loses their vision, they’ll likely be panicked and afraid.  You may notice your dog or cat acting anxious, stumbling around the house, or even being hesitant to move. A cat might find a place to hide while a dog will be more likely to stick close to your side. 

Call your vet immediately if you suspect your pet is experiencing blindness- or any degree of vision loss for that matter. Physical signs like dilated, cloudy, or mismatching pupils could be cause for concern. However, in many cases, there may not be any visible signs that something is wrong. 

Causes of Sudden Blindness

Sudden loss of vision can have many potential causes, and often vary from case to case. Your pet may be experiencing blindness due to:

  • Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve in the eye. It’s a very common cause of vision-loss in dogs2. If your dog has glaucoma, you might see them squinting, or notice enlarging blood in their eyes.
  • Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration (SARD): SARD is a disease that can cause complete blindness in a dog in just a couple of weeks. It’s especially common in female middle-aged dogs and mixed breed dogs. Your local veterinarian may not be able to diagnose this disease — you might need to see a veterinary ophthalmologist instead. Dogs who have SARD will often be very hungry and thirsty, in addition to urinating more often. 
  • Retinal Detachment: A common cause of sudden blindness in cats is retinal detachment. This is normally caused in animals by very high blood pressure (which, in turn, is often caused by something like kidney disease or hyperthyroidism). Your vet could diagnose and treat this condition. It can often be possible to partially reattach the retinas. 

Things to Keep in Mind

This isn’t a complete list of causes. Your pet could also have vision loss because of a traumatic head injury, nerve inflammation, exposure to toxins, or even medication overdose.  If it is caused by an environmental factor such as toxins or medication, your pet’s vision will likely return after the toxin or medication is removed. 

The most important thing to do with is to speak with your local vet.  Your vet will be able to work with you to figure out why your pet is experiencing sudden blindness, and determine whether there’s anything that can be done to reverse the vision loss. Regular eye exams can also help catch any problems early as well. 

Consider Investing in Pet Insurance

Looking for more ways to keep your pets happy and healthy? Consider investing in a pet insurance policy with MetLife Pet Insurance.1  We offer dog insurance and cat insurance policies for furry family members.  Get your free quote today. 

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Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances. 

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

1 Cornell University: Sudden blindness    

2 Pender: Sudden blindness in cats and dogs