Researchers find cure for dogs with sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome

If two dogs are any indication, Iowa State University veterinary researchers may have found a cure for a previously incurable disease that causes dogs to go blind suddenly.

In the past six weeks, two dogs have been successfully treated for sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS) by a research team led by ISU veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Sinisa Grozdanic in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

The experimental treatment is the first to reverse blindness and restore sight to dogs diagnosed with SARDS. The treatment restored sight to the two dogs that were treated on April 12 and April 27.

“This is the first small sign of hope that actually something can be done,” Grozdanic said.

The dogs were treated with intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg), a human blood product that contains antibodies from the plasma of thousands of blood donors. It is used to treat immune deficiencies, inflammatory diseases and autoimmune diseases.

“Although the dogs won't be catching any Frisbees, they can navigate and not bump into objects,” Grozdanic said.

SARDS was first identified in the 1980s and blinds as many as 4,000 dogs each year in North America, he said. The dogs have a sudden loss of vision despite no structural changes to the eyes or damage to the retinas in the early stages of the disease. Their eyes appear completely normal, but their retinas show no electrical activity.

Grozdanic and his colleagues wanted a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms that cause SARDS. They worked with the University of Iowa's Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences to conduct genetic testing of SARDS tissue, cross referencing the results with the U of I's datebase of genetic information from different human ocular diseases.

“We saw that the molecular profile of SARDS eyes is very similar to immune mediated retinopathy in humans, which is usually antibody induced. That was the key factor,” Grozdanic said.

Immune-mediated retinopathy in humans was not treatable until about 10 years ago when IVIg was found to show results in some patients.

Although the treatment has worked in two SARDS dogs, not every dog is a good candidate, Grozdanic cautions. Dogs with severe cardiac or kidney disease cannot tolerate IVIg. And it won't work in a dog whose retina degeneration is advanced.

“Once a dog gets SARDS, the retina degenerates quickly, so it's important the dog is treated with IVIg very soon after diagnosis,” he said. “Usually dogs that have SARDS for longer than two months have severe retinal changes. The sooner it's treated, the better chance it will work.”

An optical coherence tomography scan is needed to confirm the condition of a dog's retina. Iowa State University's Veterinary Medicine Hospital is the only veterinary institution using this advanced diagnostic technology, which is more commonly found in large ophthalmology centers for humans.

Diagnostic tests cost about $700. If the dog is a good candidate for treatment, hospitalization and intensive care fees will be about $1,200. The IVIg cost will be between $35-40 per pound of the dog's body weight.

“At this point, the biggest unknown is how long the treatment will last. It could be anywhere from a few weeks to a few years,” Grozdanic said.

Grozdanic recommends owners visit the nearest veterinary ophthalmologist as soon as a dog exhibits any loss in vision.


  1. Liz Kerns Liz Kerns Canada says:

    My Dog was diagnosed wiht SARDS. He is 5 years old Border Collie. The vet told my husband and I that Coke our dog would be blind in 3 months, we are in touch with the Gimble eye centre as we know someone there. We will do anthing for our little buddy, and would be greatful to hear from you. I am hoping that the Gimble eye centre will be able to do a transplant.  

  2. JC and Lroa Whitney JC and Lroa Whitney United States says:

    Our dog Muffin was diagnosed with SARDS yesterday and she is 8 year old female standard Dachshund.  She can still see movement and was wondering if there is anything we can do prolong her eyesight like change her diet, vitamins etc.  Appreciate any suggestions.

    • Neil Neil United States says:

      Our 7 year old female beagle was also given a diagnonis of SARDS yesterday. It was recommended to follow up with the ERG test. Did any of you have this test done?

      We were also told to try Ocuvite Preservision pills. There are 2 formulas though and I haven't been able to contact the vet to find out which one. I picked the one without vitamin A because I think it may be too much. The other one has much more Lutin instead of A. From what I have read though, I do not expect this to do much.

  3. Bill and Susan Tavares Bill and Susan Tavares United States says:

    Our 7 yr old Shelby was diagnosed 12/8/09 With SARD. We had never heard of this before. We have been referred to a canine opthomologist. We weren't told about pills. We are in the northeast and would appreciate any info where we can get her some help.

  4. Chuck Burke Chuck Burke United States says:

    Caeser had a bulging disk and was give a steroid to help with the imfalmation and pain. We were told to give him a 1/2 a pill a day. He was hurting alot lately do to all of the rain we have been having. We took him into the vet a month ago and the vet took him off the steroid. And told us that steroid does more harm than good. I have talk to others pet owners here in New Orleans area and all of thier dogs were on the same steroid and all of their dogs lost went totally blind in a mater of weeks of taking this medicine

  5. Shaggy huggins Shaggy huggins United States says:

    We just visited today at NY Animal Clinic Manhattan gave us the sad news of SARD for my precious 9yr old Shaggy. He'll be doing a ERG test as a follow-up.  funny prior to Shaggy's very sudden blindness 2 weeks ago, he was on Matacam Steriod after having surgery on his anal glands, so am hopin that didn't play a part in his blindness. Also earlier in the summer, while we were away, our dog sitter fed him cold cut and when we came back, he was going crazy for food, drinking lots of water, pooping, and peeing at odd hours of the day, he gained 6lbs in 3 weeks and haven't lost it since.  After numerous tests and visits to the vet his body stabilized and is now eating normal, but the sudden blindness appeared.  Plse advise if anyone had similar experience with their dog.
    Anxious and upset in Astoria, NY.

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