One evening several weeks ago, our sweet family member Sarah was diagnosed with sudden acquired retinal degeneration (SARDS).
It is a rare disease that happens to dogs between the ages of 7 to 14 years old, with females being more prone than males. Symptoms vary from immediate to slowly diminished sight occurring over a few weeks. Approximately 4,000 canines are affected each year.
Sarah was diagnosed with the disease and the diagnosis was further verified by an ophthalmologist. We were told that there is no cure and no treatment. The specialist did say that sometimes a regime of steroids and antibiotics could help a few dogs but the condition was not reversible and the prognosis was total blindness.
Sarah’s pupils were fully dilated and her eyes cloudy and non-seeing. She was tripping over obstacles and bumping into things she could not see. She was frequently confused over this sudden blindness. She likes to sleep in Carol’s recliner, and thinking she was jumping into the recliner she would actually jump onto the wood stove or television stand.
We bubble-wrapped all potentially dangerous furniture plus the woodstove until the metal grill-work we had ordered arrived. We used water pipe foam tubing on table and chair legs and corners that could injure her. We used oil of rosemary on places she should avoid that she could detect by smell and provide her more safety. We used an expandable leash in the fenced-in backyard to keep her from walking into trees or the fence.
When she would encounter an obstacle unexpectedly she would often panic. She would use her front feet to feel her way along. We thought she might be able to detect some light so we left the lights on at night so she could let them guide her to get a drink of water if needed or change her sleeping location without going into a full panic. The worst part was her confusion and sudden jumping mistakes that would send her into a panic. We took our home (which was for sale) off the market so she would not become further confused by having strangers in the house or the relocation process when it sold.
Our canine family friends are totally dependent upon us for most of their needs and depend on and trust us to care and provide for them. In return they give us unconditional love, devotion and loyalty. For a period of time when she was totally without sight she depended on us for her safety and being her eyes. Prior voice training now came into full play with Sarah. She adjusted fairly quickly fortunately.
A few weeks later we noted what appeared to be some sight possibly regained. At first we were unsure but it soon became apparent that her eyes were looking more normal and the white and cloudy appearance was gone and she could see partially. We are unable to understand her sudden limited recovery and miracle but we are very thankful for it. We promptly met with our vet again, who confirmed the initial diagnosis was accurate and had no explanation for Sarah’s partial restoration of sight. It was very uncommon and was a true miracle with no scientific or medical explanation. Her retinas were totally detached initially and now she could see again, albeit limited sight.
Neither of us had ever witnessed a miracle before but we were clearly seeing one now in Sarah. Neither the vet nor we has any plausible explanation but we don’t need to understand it, just be happy for Sarah and the little restoration she has received. Two of our prior dogs had minor eye problems and we question if the high altitude could be a factor, but due to its rarity there is little research available on this subject.
I am adding this second part in case any other reader encounters SARDS. Hopefully they will realize there is always a chance for limited restoration, even though it’s rare. While it is unknown how she recovered any sight at all, we are all thrilled for Sarah. The vet reported that when she first examined Sarah that she could see to the back of her eyes and the retinas were detached and floating. The vet was equally astounded that she regained any sight and cannot explain the partial recovery in any known medical terms.
Two things happened: First, we did not give up hope for Sarah, as dismal as the diagnosis was, and second, we are now able to pass on some tips for providing a safe environment for blind dogs. While Sarah’s partial recovery is extremely rare and medically unexplained, she can at least see forms well enough to now avoid accidents. She was previously alert to deer around the house and now does not see them, but smells them. SARDS is an insidious and devastating disease that normally is permanent and we presently go day to day with Sarah knowing it could possibly still leave her fully blind. We are thankful for each day of sight for her.
For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray, mountain living and their four legged family, visit their website.