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Dog Breeds With Poor Eyesight: Could Your Dog Go Blind? - PawSafe

Dog Breeds With Poor Eyesight: Could Your Dog Go Blind?

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

dog breeds with poor eyesight

It’s no secret that genetic issues related to a small gene pool have led to dog breeds with poor eyesight. Sadly, while more breeders are testing for problems such as hip dysplasia, many are not screening breeding dogs for genetic eye issues.

Of course, we could list a few breeds prone to eyesight issues, but eye conditions are so widespread, it simply won’t provide real insight into the problem. Instead, let’s get through the most pervasive genetic canine eye disease and look at the breeds most likely to have them.

Why Do Some Dog Breeds Have Poor Eyesight?

Sadly, breeding for exaggerated facial features such as a smooshed nose and large eyes has led to many dogs developing poor eyesight and deteriorating vision. However, dogs with more natural skulls and longer noses, such as the Collie or Husky, often carry genetic disorders that lead to blindness.

Responsible pet parents must make eye hygiene part of their daily grooming ritual, such as using natural doggy eye wipes to clean away boogers and tear stains. But it is also essential to know if their breed of choice is prone to any hereditary disorders that a responsible breeder will check for.

Dog Breeds With Poor Eyesight: The Most Common Eye Problems In Dogs

Flat-Faced (Brachycephalic) Breeds

To discuss the problems of eyesight and dog breeds, we must first deal with flat-faced or brachycephalic breeds as a separate issue. By far, some of our favorite companions are most likely to go blind. These are the dogs with smooshed muzzles and big eyes that we all know and love; our brachycephalic breeds.

Short-nosed dogs are extremely prone to a disorder called brachycephalic ocular syndrome (BOS). These breeds all have large, protruding eyes that come from an abnormal and unnatural skull shape and often create various vision issues.

Their popularity has led to a surge in breeding, recently, and a surge in bad breeding practices and inbreeding. This is made worse as breeders breed for more exaggerated features that also create more severe vision problems

These breeds include:

  • Pugs;
  • Shih Tzus;
  • Brussels Griffon;
  • Dogue De Bordeaux;
  • Pekingese;
  • Bulldogs;
  • Bullmastiffs;
  • Boxers;
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel;
  • Affenpinschers; and
  • French Bulldog.

The eye issues that these breeds face are many and varied. Let’s take a closer look at the challenges that develop for brachycephalic breeds.

Dog Breeds With Poor Eyesight: What Problems Do Brachycephalic Breeds Have?

Brachycephalic dogs are vulnerable to several severe health issues, mostly related to respiratory and dental problems. But their abnormal skull shape makes

One study in Ireland found that about half of short-nosed dogs found that:

  1. About half of the short-nosed dogs have macroblepharon, which causes progressive corneal disease because the eyelids are too long and the eyeball protrudes too far from the skull.
  2. Eyelid abnormalities are prevalent, with entropion alone affecting. 22% of dogs. This is when the eyelid turns inward, so the lashes constantly scrape the eye surface. About 16% had trichiasis, where the eyelashes turned inward on their own. Roughly the same amount had extra eyelashes, a condition called distichiasis. These lash and lid abnormalities can impair vision over time without surgical intervention.
  3. Almost 12% have such low tear production that they qualify for keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or dry eye. This inflames the protective conjunctiva that covers the white of the eye and the inner eyelid, causing conjunctivitis.
  4. About 13% showed uveitis — inflammation in the middle eye wall — and glaucoma.
  5. Corneal lesions presented in almost half of the dogs. This includes corneal ulcers, fibrosis, pigmentation, and degeneration.

These were not the only eye ailments found in the study, only the most common. Sadly more than half the short-nosed dogs needed surgery.

One condition specific to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is dry eye curly coat syndrome. This is where they struggle so much to produce tears that there is massive inflammation in the cornea and conjunctiva.

Regardless, these are not the only dog breeds with poor eyesight. Let’s look at some other hereditary problems and the breeds that are vulnerable to them.

Merle-Colored Dogs with Poor Eyesight

Merle is stunning coat color that occurs in a few different breeds including:

  • Australian Shepherds;
  • Shelties;
  • Border Collies;
  • Rough Collies and other Collie breeds;
  • Great Dane (Harlequin);
  • Cardigan Welsh Corgi; and
  • French Bulldog.

And many more. Since this is such as unique color, breeders with merle dog breeds may try to breed just for the color. Sadly, the merle color gene can result in Merle Ocular Dysgenesis (MOD), which is more severe if the dog is bred from two merle parents. In some cases, this can simply be a blue eye but can mean a variety of abnormalities, including:

  • Puppies born blind;
  • One or both eyes being abnormally small (microphthalmos);
  • A tiny cornea;
  • Defects in the uveal tissue and sclera; and
  • An undeveloped iris, no iris at all, or a defective iris that looks like the dog has two pupils.

This is far from an exhaustive list of the issues with MOD or Merle Eye Anomaly. So beware of purchasing Merle puppies, particularly those with two Merle parents.

Dog Breeds Prone To Retinal Issues

Retinal issues are widespread in certain breeds. The retina is the part of the eye that contains light-sensitive rods and cones. Broadly speaking, there are several kinds of retinal genetic issues. Some are progressive, meaning that the rods and cones deteriorate over time. This is the common Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). These can be early or late onset.

But several other retinal issues can crop up, depending on breed. Cathryn Mellersh of the Animal Health Trust organizes them as follows:

Developmental Retinal Disorders

The most notorious of these illnesses is Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), which affects:

  • Border Collies;
  • Bearded Collies;
  • Rough Collies;
  • Smooth Collies; and
  • Shetland Sheepdogs.

Changes in the choroid tissues in this condition restrict oxygen and nutrients from reaching the retina.

Other developmental retinal disorders affect the Samoyed and Labrador Retriever.

Stationary Retinal Disorders

These disorders include Canine Multifocal Retinopathy (CMR), which affects:

  • The Great Pyrenees;
  • Coton du Tulear;
  • English Mastiff; and
  • Bullmastiff.

It also includes Canine Stationary Night Blindness (CSNB), which affects the Briard dog when their rods degenerate around the time they turn six months.

Other disorders in this bracket are cone disorders found in the Alaskan Malamute and the German Shorthaired Pointer.

Cone Rod Degeneration Disorders

This is an inherited condition that affects:

  • Glen of Imaal Terrier;
  • Miniature Longhaired Dachshund; and
  • Standard Wirehaired Dachshund.

Progressive Retinal Atrophies (PRAs)

These common disorders where the canine retina wastes away over time can be divided into two types.

Early Onset PRA (detected between 2 & 3 months)

  • Cardigan Welsh Corgi;
  • Irish Setter;
  • Collie;
  • Norwegian Elkhound;
  • Mixed breeds; and
  • Miniature Schnauzer.

Late Onset PRA (detected between 3 & 9 years)

  • Sloughi;
  • English Mastiff;
  • Samoyed;
  • Siberian Husky;
  • Gorden Setter;
  • Irish Setter;
  • Tibetan Terrier; and
  • Schapendoes.

Other breeds vulnerable to PRA include:

  • Bedlington Terriers;
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels;
  • Golden Retriever;
  • American Cocker Spaniel;
  • Rottweiler; and
  • English Springer Spaniel.

In some cases, dogs can lose their vision rapidly due to the destruction of their rods and cones. This is called Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome. We don’t know why this happens, and no specific breeds are more prone to it than any other.

Dog Breeds Prone To Glaucoma

Glaucoma happens due to a build-up of pressure inside the eye when fluid cannot drain away correctly, damaging the optic nerve and retina. Dog breeds susceptible to this include:

  • Most terriers, including Jack Russel Terriers and Yorkshire Terriers;
  • Cocker Spaniels;
  • Bassetts;
  • Poodles;
  • Chow Chows; and
  • Beagles.

Dog Breeds Prone To Primary Lens Luxation (PLL)

Other dogs that may have poor eyesight are dogs with PLL. This is where the tiny fibers that hold the lens in place break down, and the lens is dislocated. This disorder can happen because of tumors or injuries but is often hereditary. Dog breeds that could struggle with this eyesight problem include:

  • Terrier and Terrier Mixes
  • Chinese Crested Do

Dog Breeds Prone To Cataracts

Cataracts are when the eye’s lens becomes cloudy and obscures vision. They can be present at birth (congenital), start when a dog is young (juvenile), or, more commonly, in older dogs (senile cataracts). About 60 breeds are at a higher risk of developing cataracts, but the most vulnerable are:

  • Staffordshire Terrier;
  • Labrador;
  • Boston Terrier;
  • Yorkshire Terrier;
  • Siberian Husky;
  • Springer Spaniel;
  • Poodle;
  • Miniature Schnauzer;
  • French Bulldog; and
  • Cocker Spaniel.

Dog Breeds That Are Near Sighted And Far-Sighted

If you’ve ever called your dog from a distance and noticed them running in circles to find you, your dog may be nearsighted even though you are in full view. This means that objects far away are blurry and unclear. While this is rare in the aptly named sighthound breeds, it’s quite a common problem.

Dogs have better night vision than humans, which is why their eyes glow but cannot see as far or in as many colors. Dogs also tend to get more near-sighted as they age. Breeds that are most commonly near-sighted include:

  1. English Springer Spaniels;
  2. Miniature Schnauzers;
  3. German Shepherds;
  4. Collies;
  5. Labrador retrievers;
  6. Toy Poodles; and
  7. Rottweilers.

On the other hand, if your dog regularly struggles to locate a toy right in front of them, they may be far-sighted. This is rarer, but it does happen in Alaskan Malamutes, Bouvier De Flandres, and Australian Shepherds.

A vet may use a retinoscope to measure near or far-sightedness in dogs.

What Helps Dogs With Poor Eyesight?

You can help a dog with poor eyesight due to degenerative diseases such as PRA, dog food loaded with antioxidants such as vitamin E and safe amounts of beta-carotene or vitamin A may slow progression. Taurine can also help prevent cataracts.

A dog may also need surgery depending on the condition, such as eyelid deformities or cataracts. In many cases, failing eyesight can’t be helped, and it’s vital to help your dog cope by keeping their environment the same (never moving furniture) and removing hazards.

You can read a more in-depth guide to canine eye health in this article on dog eye care.

How To Tell If Your Dog Has Vision Problems?

Of course, if you wave your hand in front of a dog’s eye and there is no reaction, you already have a blind dog. But there are other signs that their eyesight may be failing. The first sign of vision problems may be your dog startling easily, or you may see cloudy eyes.

They may grow confused or distressed by changes in their environment, such as moved furniture. They may bump into furniture, struggle with stairs, or walk right past a favorite toy. A dog may suddenly be hesitant about entering a new environment, jumping in or out of a car, or onto and off furniture.

A vet may conduct several tests on your dog if they suspect eye problems. One standard test is the Schirmer eye test which tests lacrimation, or if the tear ducts produce enough tears to keep the eye moist. A healthy range for dogs is 18.64 +/- 4.47 mm/min to 23.90 +/- 5.73 mm/min.

Many eye issues are reversible or manageable. So it’s essential to see your vet as soon as possible for help and decide on the correct course of action to help your dog.

Final Thoughts

Dogs with poor eyesight are an increasingly common problem, and sadly, this is due to overbreeding so many of our favorite purebred dogs. Of course, it’s always better to adopt if we can, but this doesn’t mean that purebred dog breeding will likely ever stop.

For this reason, when we buy from breeders, be aware of the genetic faults that can run in a purebred dog’s line and insist your breeder provides the genetic tests for their breeding dogs before purchasing their puppies. Never buy from a backyard breeder who does not screen their dogs for hereditary abnormalities. Every puppy deserves to be born to healthy parents for the best chance of living a long and healthy life.

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.