Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome, aka SARDS, is a medical condition wherein a dog suddenly loses its vision over a period of several days to a matter of weeks. More commonly seen in older canines between the ages of 8 and 10 that are mixed breeds, it also tends to afflict spayed females for some reason. Unfortunately, the condition cannot be reversed.
SARDS in Dogs
While all canines regardless of breed can be struck by SARDS, some — such as dachshunds, beagles, and pugs — are reportedly predisposed to it. At the same time, SARDS isn’t inheritable, either, so it’s not passed from a parent to their young. For the most part, vets don’t really know much about it or what causes it. One theory is that the disease is immune-mediated, meaning the body’s immune system is attacking the retina, rods, and cones that facilitate vision.
The signs of SARDS can be alarming at first, but medical professionals do not believe that patients are in pain when the process is occurring. Symptoms include bumping into furniture and walls, becoming stuck in corners and/or lost in open areas, standing in one spot as if afraid to move, hesitance or reluctance on stairs, newly acquired separation anxiety, pacing aimlessly, dilated pupils, and signs of Cushing’s disease. Those include increased hunger, drinking and urinating more, and/or possible weight gain.
A diagnosis of SARDS requires a visit to a veterinary ophthalmologist, who will want to rule out glaucoma or other forms of vision loss. Once there, they will perform an electroretinogram (ERG) to test the retina’s response to light. If it is SARDS, the retina will show no response. Again, none of this is supposed to be painful, but it can be very upsetting and more than a little confusing.
While nothing at this stage in medicine will bring your pet’s vision back, you can try to make their life a little easier while they adjust. Consider the following 10 suggestions to help them cope:
1. Provide them with a safe space away from children and strangers initially
2. Avoid rearranging furniture or changing your home’s floor plan
3. Wrap sharp corners and block off fall risks until they adjust
4. Keep their food and water in the same place
5. Keep them on a leash when outside initially
6. Keep them away from pools or bodies of water
7. Put gravel around the perimeter of your yard to alert your dog to the fence line
8. Talk to your dog before touching them to avoid startling them
9. Keep a routine, like walking the same path each day during your regular outings
10. Get them a bandana or other marker to wear to indicate they’re blind or consider a blind dog halo harness