Shar-Peis are a centuries old breed hailing from the southern regions of China. They are defined by their brown and wrinkled skin -- their name means "sand-skin" after all -- but their skin and other genetic traits make them vulnerable to various eye problems that can lead to blindness.
Signs of Blindness
Blindness is not exclusively an old-dog disease. It doesn't necessarily take a long time to happen either. Some causes of blindness can obstruct your Shar-Pei's vision in a matter of weeks or months. If your dog is easily frightened, especially by touch, or if he seems to act as if he's lost, confused or dazed, there's a good chance he can't see well. He may also not move around much and could have a hard time finding familiar locations, like his bed and bowls.
You should get your furry friend to the vet if you notice any of the signs of blindness. You will be glad you did, especially if your dog emerges from the treatment with full health. Depending on the problem, an early diagnosis can make the difference between permanent and temporary damage. After examining your dog's eyes, facial structure and eyelids, your veterinarian will make a diagnosis and recommend medical treatment. The condition may be fully or partially reversible depending on the problem, but you should also consider the possibility of your future life with a blind dog. It's not as bad as you might think: Shar-Peis are intelligent and well-equipped to adapt to a lack of vision.
Fortunately, many of the common causes of blindness in Shar-Peis are treatable and in some cases can be completely cured. Entropion, which describes the "rolling in" of your dog's eyelids, as well as cataracts and glaucoma are common treatable causes of vision loss. The Shar-Pei's wrinkly skin puts the dog at high risk for entropion, but other factors like muscle spasms and physical deformity can make it worse. Over time, the eyelashes may scratch the surfaces of your dog's eyes. This consistent damage causes a cataractlike scar to grow over your dog's eyes, slowly blinding him. As with cataracts and glaucoma, the causes of entropion are treatable through surgery, although the damage done to the eye itself is irreversible. This is why taking your puppy to the vet as soon as possible is vital.
One of the Shar-Pei's major genetic weaknesses is their risk of developing degenerative eye disease. There's a chance that your dog is losing his sight permanently due to sudden acquired retinal degeneration (SARD) or progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). It is understandable to be concerned, if not a little scared, after hearing your vet diagnose one of these two diseases. While there is no way to stop the degeneration, which occurs suddenly with SARD and gradually with PRA, it does not mean you are losing your dog.
Living With Blindess
Blindness is tragic, but it's not all that uncommon in purebred dogs. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to make everyone's life a little easier. Dogs rely heavily on their vision for basic navigation, but they can memorize the layout of a home and yard if you don't move furniture and other large objects often, according to Dr. Jeff Vidt of West Suburban Veterinary Associates in Westmont, Illinois. You should avoid sudden encounters with strange dogs while out for a walk, as your dog may become violent if he is startled by another canine. You should also keep your vision-impaired dog on a leash all the time, because he can't see vehicles and other dangers.
- sharpei image by david bruyer from Fotolia.com