Little Nora, the feisty, sweet, and sometimes surly Cairn terrier we rescued nearly four years ago, who was diagnosed with canine Cushing’s disease a couple of months ago, has a new challenge. Blindness.
This newest malady might be related to Nora’s Cushing’s. The vets don’t know. They ruled out obvious causes, such as high-blood pressure, diabetes, and glaucoma.
While her blindness is new and could actually be SARDS (sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome), I don’t think the vision loss happened overnight. A few months ago, I noticed that she was running her snout into objects when she’d turn her head. At the time, I just thought that she was misjudging how big her nose was.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, the usually undiscerning eater actually seemed to reject a piece of celery, and I thought she was suddenly being picky. In reality, she couldn’t see it.
When she walked through the kitchen and ran into my legs one day, there was no denying that she had some level of blindness. A visit to the vet confirmed that she has no near vision at all, but her eyes still react, slowly, to light.
Could the blindness be related to her Cushing’s or perhaps the related drug, Vetoryl? Maybe. Cushing’s disease causes cortisol levels that are too high, and the Vetoryl helps to lower them. I read online that low levels can cause blindness and mentioned this to the vet. An ACTH Stim test revealed that Nora’s cortisol level was 1.2, and it should be no lower than 1.45. So, we were instructed to stop the Vetoryl for two days and start up again at 30 mg. rather than 40 mg. Then, she’ll have another ACTH Stim test in two weeks along with a check of her electrolytes.
Regarding further diagnostics, our only other option, because we live in a small-ish town, would be to travel to Cleveland, Buffalo, or Pittsburgh to see a veterinary ophthalmologist. If Nora did not already have the Cushing’s, we might consider that, but such a venture is probably not practical, given her disease and prognosis. One of the reasons for her blindness could be that a tumor on her pituitary gland is growing. Nora’s Cushing’s disease is pituitary driven.
With the temporary break from Vetoryl, my magical thinking conjured up visions of Nora’s sight being restored, but the vet was doubtful about that. Instead, it seems that her vision is getting worse. She had some distance vision until two days ago, but she has started running into more things lately.
Our plan is to support Nora’s newest challenge to the best of our ability, as long as her general quality of life is good enough. If not, we know what to do. This isn’t our first rodeo with a sick pet. Nora’s learning to follow new voice commands, such as up/down and left/right. I ordered two toys from Amazon that have sound features, a ball and a stuffed animal. I also ordered Living With Blind Dogs, by Caroline D. Levin.
From what I have read about canine blindness, dogs pick up on their owners’ sadness, so we are being very cheerful and praising her navigating progress to the high heavens. It must be pretty scary for a dog to lose its sight, so we also keep reassuring her that everything is okay. Nora’s still living a pretty good life, so we’ll just help her learn to adapt to her new normal. If anyone has any suggestions about living with a blind dog, please feel free to leave a message below.
Lest we completely forget Nora’s sister, Nutmeg, here’s a picture of her. She’s doing great, and like her sister, is a joyful part of our lives.
Ann Silverthorn writes about a wide variety of topics in numerous genres. She’s currently working on a biography of William E. Dimorier (1871-1951), a nearly forgotten poet and educator, who dedicated his life to the betterment of young people.