Canine Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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I have written several blogs on dogs, animal rescue, veterinary care along with pet responsibilities. This is a different topic regarding a disease that has hit our home and is worthy to report on. Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration (SARDS). Two days ago our beautiful German Shepherd Sarah was going through her routine day by having gone out with me into the fenced back yard in the morning. It is our routine to go out and leave the two boys inside so we have some time together while I clean up the pet droppings from the prior day. She chased two chipmunks from the back yard which is a normal activity for her. That evening when I was giving treats to our dogs she was unable to see the treat handed her. The next morning we immediately took her in to see the vet and the above diagnosis was made. A specialist was consulted in Colorado Springs and the diagnosis was supported by the specialist. Sarah had gone suddenly blind and there is no treatment and no known cure. She started her day normally enough and within a few hours she was totally blind.

This disease strikes dogs of any breed usually between the age of 7-14, and it occurs more frequently in females than males. The cause is unknown and the results are very sudden and devastating. Sarah is either 9 or 10 years old and falls into that age and sex category. When the name of the disease says ‘sudden’ it truly means sudden. One moment you are normal and the next you are sightless with detached retina‘s. In Sarah’s case she can still see shadows which is helping her acclimate to her now permanent and irreversible condition. With the exception of now having a handicap and being slightly confused over this sudden change in her life she is otherwise very normal. If there were any warnings leading up to this happening we failed to notice them or they were so subtle that we couldn’t distinguish any noticeable change.

Even with the trauma there have been some positives occurring in this very short span of time since the diagnosis. One is that our house is small and one story and Sarah knows every square inch of it. Therefore she can get around well which serves to lessen her anxiety and confusion. Our two males seemed to instantly recognize her disability and have helped her navigate and all still go for daily walks. We had placed our home for sale but moving under these conditions would be extremely stressful for Sarah so we have taken our home temporarily off the market. Some of the things we quickly had to learn are noteworthy and they are: Do not rearrange the furniture, change things or routines and watch her more closely so she doesn’t fall on the two steps leading out the back door and into the fenced in back yard. To push dining room chairs back in when we leave the table. Remove obstacles that could cause her to trip. Assuming there is nothing else wrong with her she will lead a full and normal life with her two seeing eye brothers and both Carol and I caring and watching out for her.

The reason I chose to report on this so quickly is to bring awareness to the gravity and life changing nature  of the disease and its sudden onset. The philosophical lesson to be learned would be at any time life can deal you a blow that will change everything in your world. Sarah is clearly aware how much she is loved and cared for and that care will be even more acute as she now learns to live with her disability and depend on us even more. What effects one family member effects all of us and we will pull together as a family unit for Sarah. Anyone who has had a dog go blind or adopted a blind dog knows life can be close to normal once adjustments are learned and made. As it appears currently it is going to be us who will be making most of the adjustments. Prior to our adopting Sarah she was obviously an abused girl and with 5 years of tender love and self esteem building she developed into a beautiful personality loved by all who ever met her. This is just one more obstacle that she will overcome and once we  can control our emotions we will be there to guide her over this hurdle too. I must admit that every time she looks at me and I can see she can’t actually see me my heart breaks but she shouldn’t know how bad we are suffering inside. She is still normal except now she has no sight. Our task is to keep things as normal and routine as possible and cram for helpful tips that will help us ease Sarah into her changed life. Fortunately there seems to be an abundance of material available to help us help Sarah.

Be aware of SARDS and how quickly it can change your pets life. While is is rare it does exist as we have found out. Take nothing for granted and enjoy your pet each day you have them with you. As we have found out things can change very suddenly.  Our fur family friends are a vital part of our lives and as we grow and learn to cope with Sarah‘s disability we will grow even closer.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and life in the mountains with their three German shepherds, go to