small cocker

Health Condition Threatens Dog Vision

cute cocker

A drooping jowl, eye issues, and trouble eating: These were the first signs that something was wrong with Leo, the the Coller couple’s 9-year-old parti-colored Sable Cocker Spaniel. A health issue was brewing and it progressed to blindness.  The health condition threatened their dog’s vision.

“Leo first showed the onset of the condition in February of this year,” Tom Coller of Morenci, Michigan says. “It is a quite common neurological disorder of the eye and facial muscles. The condition usually occurs suddenly and is due to a dysfunction of the sympathetic nerves of the eyes and surrounding facial muscles and may be caused by inner ear infections, spinal injuries, blunt trauma, disc disease or tumors.”

All dog parents should be aware of the condition, what to watch for, when to call a veterinarian so dogs can be checked immediately.

Bell’s Palsy and Horner’s Syndrome

Bell’s Palsy is a weakness or paralysis of the muscles on one side of the face. Our last Cocker Spaniel was afflicted with this condition, which self resolved in two weeks.

For Coller’s dog, Leo, a related condition called Horner’s Syndrome was diagnosed. A drooping eye, an eyelid that protrudes, or a severely constricted pupil are all characteristics of Horner’s syndrome.  It can affect any breed of dog but seems to be prominent in Golden Retrievers, according to petMD.

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Leo’s Symptoms

After dealing with a lower back injury and being treated with steroids and a pain medication, the Collers saw an improvement in Leo. He soon developed an ear infection and had an ongoing ear cleaning routine to keep the floppy, heavy ears of Cocker Spaniels.

“We noticed his left eye and jowl had considerable drooping and he had trouble eating as his tongue wasn’t working on the left side as well,” Coller remembers. “He had trouble eating as his tongue wasn’t working on the left side as well.”

Vision problems, depth perception, and a bit of a droopy jowl came next. In late July of 2014, the couple noticed more severe vision problems. Leo’s eye pupils appeared normal but very dilated. He was going blind.

cute cocker
Buddy helps Leo get around

In the Dark

Leo’s veterinarian reports the Horner’s caused optic nerve damage and the blindness results. What the Collers dubbed their “little ball playing fool” (spaniel parents can relate) became a depressed little boy who could no longer see.

In most cases, Horner’s syndrome causes are idiopathic, or unknown. It can also be caused by a brain tumor or injury, spinal cord lesion, or infection.

Long term, Leo may or may not regain his sight. The Collers have made it a point to make the best of a rough situation.

He wanders through the house, follows his Cocker family members, and uses a “Babble Ball” that makes noise to play. His dad reports that though Leo sometimes bumps into things, he keeps right on going and has not let the blindness slow him down.

When he could see, Leo would lay across the back of the recliner. He has managed to find his way to the back of the recliner and his Cocker tenacious spirit prevails!

“I am amazed to the degree of adjustment to his sudden onset of blindness he has made,” his dog dad shares.

Leo’s ability to find the chair is not affected – cuddle and cuteness alert!

Symptoms To Watch For

Here are five symptoms to watch for in your own dog. Keep in mind, dogs need not have all these symptoms and the symptoms maybe be indicative of other health issues, so seek veterinary care immediately if your dog has:

  • Smaller size eye pupil (miosis)
  • Abnormal elevation of inner eyelid – located between cornea and inner corner of eyelids (third eyelid)
  • Drooping of upper eyelid
  • Eyes appear sunken into eye socket
  • Inflammation of ear

You can read more about Horner’s Syndrome from petMD here.

Never Give Up

For dogs who go blind or who are blind, with the right guidance and a loving dog mom/dad, they can and do thrive.

June Myers of Oklahoma has a dog, 15-1/2 years young, Buster, who lost his vision and he does incredibly well with love, guidance, and his cat family member, Jack.

Buster of June Myers

Leo’s Attitude

Leo listens when the ball is bounced his way.

Leo follows the sounds to find what he wants.

Leo is learning directions and knows the way when his parents say “left, right, in front of you, behind you, back, forward and so on.”

Leo is a brave little guy who is eager to please and to give love.

We’re following the message of Leo and keeping our chin up and facing whatever life throws our way, including a tennis ball.

How about you?


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  1. Wonderful article. Once a dog becomes blind, their other senses kick in and help them. Buster as he has gotten older has slowed down. Never give up on a blind dog. We love our little guy to pieces. Carol has seen how he does when we travel in our motor home.

    Thank you, Carol for your love of dogs.

    1. I know June and Buster personally. Buster has to be the most resilient little guy that I have ever seen.

      I was proud to walk his “seeing eye” brother Ziggy in the Rescue Parade at the ASC Nationals in Richmond, VA. a few years back. Ziggy always made sure that he knew exactly where Buster at all times. When June and Mike lost Ziggy, I feared for Buster’s outlook for the future. Not to worry, his resilient cocker spirit kicked in and along with guidance from June and her hubby Mike, Buster thrives.

      I love him to pieces,
      Juanita Duell

  2. Oh wow!!! Thank you for sharing this story
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  3. Thanks for sharing information about poor Leo’s condition. I’ve never heard of Horner’s disease, I bet Leo will adjust to his new condition. I had a German shepherd who became blind and the veterinary Opthamologist told us that if a dog had to lose a sense, the easiest on them was the loss of sight. We made some adjustments to protect him and our dog did very well. I wish for the best for Leo.

  4. Thank you for sharing this condition, I had never heard of it either. It must be heartbreaking to see our beloved babies go through this. I did a post in our website in June about Muffins halo for pets who are blind. It’s a special harness that helps pets get around without bumping into objects. I’m including a link to Muffins Halo for anyone who may want to get these special halos that help their pets adjust to blindness.

  5. Hi all I’m Leo’s Dad just wanted to update the story a little and say thank you to Carol for the wonderful job of sharing Leo’s condition story…. We had a very extensive Vet visit last Thursday and she has confirmed that the optic nerve damage is permanent and that Leo is completely blind. She prescribed some new drops for his eyes as he is unable to properly make tears and his eyes water constantly. She also has given us ear drops for his chronic ear infections. THANKS AGAIN, CAROL!

      1. OCTOBER 16th update!
        Leo is doing really good! He has learned “turn!, left, right, straight, door, wall, refrigerator, stairs, up, down, in front of you, you got it, back up, behind you and others. He is a Velcro puppy these days never too far away (right now laying on my feet snoring) He hangs out with me all day when I am off work and throws a fit (howls like he’s going to die) when I leave for any reason and goes berserk when I get home! He jumps up on the bench in the mud room and wants to give me a puppy hug and kisses! He is such a sweet little guy! His “Babble Ball” is his new best friend he loves his “TALKY BALL” and plays with it for hours on end! We had to restrict Buddy from water and food on Sunday night because of his Monday morning surgery….. Leo during the night needed a drink so he got up on the bed with his front paws close enough to tap me on the arm to wake my up. When I asked him what he wanted he got in my face and very dramatically panted! It was like I’m thirsty dad! Duhhhh! After the third wake up I got smart and put a cottage cheese container full of water on my night stand just for him! Silly dog! I just went down to get a shirt from the laundry room and when I started up the stairs I looked up and he was sitting with his butt on the top landing and front legs on the first step like he was sitting on a chair! He does this to me too sits on my chest with his butt, and legs on the bed…. have a great day all! Updates to follow!

  6. We are sad to report that Leo has been hit with another go around with Horner’s syndrome, it has hit his RIGHT side this time! This is the same side that started the whole mess. We started with the right side then it went to the left, he was o.k. for a few months and got it again on the left…During this second bout he went blind and now has it again on the right! This bout seems worse then the others… his paralysis is far worse than it has ever been and he is also having balance problems and confusion! He has developed an inner ear infection and has become disoriented and confused because of it, he walks in circles trying to figure out where he is and is walking into things more than usual.He refuses to jump on bed or off , won’t go down stairs and get’s lost in our yard….. being a real Velcro Puppy these days! 11/8/14 Vet said to give him the meds as prescribed and let them work. Said then she will reassess his condition…. She fears that he has a brain tumor and we should prepare for the worse. I think he has a middle ear infection, we will see, he is doing better, the circle walking has stopped still gets confused, I think that he has lost the little bit of sight he had left and has to adjust to his complete blindness… He is not a throw away dog, he is part of our family and I refuse to give up on him! I will get a second opinion prior to any final decisions about his life! He is a wonderful little dog who deserves only the best shot! Please continue to keep him in your thoughts! Any advice would be appreciated.

    1. I have only just come across this thread as the vet thinks my dog has Horners Syndrome. How is Leo now? Did he come out the other end? Oh I do hope so

      1. Hi Francis Leo had three separate episodes with Horner’s he had it on the left side and then it went to the right and then back to the left. It effected his optic nerves and over the course of about six months he went progressively blind! He gets on quite well he loves to explore our yard with his big brother Buddy and loves his Babble Ball that talks to him as he bats it around. Your vet should be giving your pup steroids to strengthen his immune system. I am on face book if you want to pm me with questions. I will friend you if you want just let me know…… Tom Coller

  7. After fighting a great fight and not letting being BLIND AND DEAF from this condition Our little Leo has gone and crossed the Rainbow Bridge! His CAN DO SPIRIT was an inspiration to all who knew and loved him He was an AMAZING little dog with a HUGE HUGE HEART! He will be missed!

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