12 ON YOUR SIDE: Dog goes blind from rare disease

GLEN ALLEN, VA (WWBT) - A shocking diagnosis prompted a Glen Allen woman to call 12 about a rare disease that caused her dog to go blind.

Wonderful whiskers give Sammy the Schnauzer his unforgettable look — but those wired hairs are key now that Sammy is blind. He relies more on sound, smell, taste, and touch.

Sammy went blind from a mysterious disease called "SARDS" — sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome. The blindness is permanent. There's no cure.

Chris Waller recalled strange changes two months earlier.

"All of a sudden, he was ravenous," said Waller. "Couldn't get enough food. Always scratching at his bowl. Always wanting to eat."

Sammy became bloated and started bumping into things.

"The vet tested his eyes and he had gone blind basically over night. I just thought he was confused bumping into things. It never occurred to me that he was blind."

Veterinary Opthalmologist Michael Blair said he's diagnosed about 100 cases in 10 years —including nine-year-old Sammy just recently.

"No one knows what cause the condition," said Dr. Blair. "We do know that there's a hormonal imbalance that leads to the increased appetite, the urinating, the drinking. Shortly after that they lose vision.

"The problem with this disease is the retina stops working, and the retina is the part of the eye which is basically like film in the camera. The camera is fine... the film has just suddenly gone bad."

Dr. Blair is helping Sammy enjoy life as a blind dog. Sammy's owner Chris understands the prognosis is bright — with lots of training, no sudden rearranging of furniture and constant voice commands, Sammy will do just fine.

"He's just going to live as a blind dog," said Waller. "Lifespan is not shortened. He's not in pain. It's just he's blind. He has to kinda feel his way around.

"Dogs live in the present. It's not like, 'God I miss the days when I could see.' It's just that they live in the present. He's assuming that everybody is like this."

SARDS occurs in middle aged dogs, females a little more than males.

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