Sorry that I haven’t written in a while. It has been a bit of a rough period. As you’re about to read.

I have discussed before what happens when we change the rules for our dogs, but the truth is, we don’t have to change anything: life is always changing. A few months ago, we started noticing some changes in Sirius Black’s behavior. He was no longer reacting to, or even seeming to notice, wildlife along our walks, unless it crossed directly in front of us. He also showed some hesitancy on walks, above what could be expected from the hot weather. He also had accidents in the house at times when he never would have normally. We had no reason to particularly link these behavior changes, and, at first, we didn’t.

chair in foreground with water bowl in background
A pulled out kitchen chair is not something I would have thought of as a threat.

Then, about two weeks ago, he started walking into things. This wasn’t just an enthusiastic dog who wasn’t watching where he was going. He was walking straight into trees. He was stopping at open doors and walking into closed ones. If we left a chair pulled out at the kitchen table, he would walk into it trying to reach the waterbowl.

It only took a few of these incidents to tell us something was seriously wrong. At (approximately) eight years old, Sirius was young for age-related eye issues. We weren’t observing significant behavioral changes other than vision loss. Our vet did outline several medical issues that could cause vision loss, although most would have shown other symptoms that weren’t present either in casual observation or after a veterinary exam. Basic blood tests and some special exams also came back normal.

Yesterday, we took our next step: a visit to the veterinary opthamologist. After another exam, the vet recommended an ERG test. Not to get too technical, the results of that test came back indicative of Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (SARDS). This means that Sirius has sudden and irreversible vision loss.

There are no known causes or treatments for SARDS. It generally affects middle aged to senior dogs. Pure and mixed breed dogs are susceptible, although the opthamologist told us she typically sees it in smaller dogs. The excessive water intake (and food intake) can be seen with the onset of the condition, although they often settle down within several months to a year.

This diagnosis isn’t anything we are happy about, although it is better than the worst case scenarios we had been told to prepare for. Also, now that we have a likely diagnosis, we can take next steps forward. I know there will be a lot of changes we need to make to our house and routine, and we have only started to make them. My previous experience with dogs with low vision is around older dogs who have correspondingly lower activity levels, not with middle aged herding breed dogs. I anticipate you will be reading a lot about this process in the next several months and years.

Have personal experience with SARDS or other canine vision loss? Share your experiences in the comments.

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