Dr. Bonnie Franklin: Take a Fun Vision Test with Your Dog, for Veterinary Science | Four-Legged Friends and More

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We all know about the visits to the ophthalmologist for a vision checkup. The eye chart has letters that go from large to so very small. You stand 20 feet back covering one eye at a time and read.

But what about our dogs? It is very hard to assess the amount of vision a dog has. Veterinarian ophthalmologists place objects in an exam room under bright light and then again with dim light to see how the dog navigates around the exam room to evaluate their vision.

Your local veterinarian waves a hand in front of your dog’s face to see if it blinks. This just tells the veterinarian if the dog has vision. A blink does not assess a gradual loss of vision that eye charts can show for people.

dr Freya Mowat, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Veterinary Medicine, says that, historically, creating a dog eye chart has had a few “epic fails.”

Mowat has come up with a potentially new way to access your dog’s eyesight. She wants to design an eye chart for dogs that is similar to the ones we use.

But, she says, “In order to keep dogs engaged, we need to provide interesting content. What is that content and how long can we expect it to be engaging for? We have no idea, and this research will get us closer to understanding what dogs like to look at on screens.”

So Mowat and her team are asking for your help by participating in a dog TV survey on your dog’s screen viewing habits.

Scientists evaluate a baby’s eyesight by how long they look at interesting objects, and Mowat wants to apply the same concept to dogs.

We have so many things on our screens for our dogs. There are television channels, streaming content, YouTube videos for dogs and DOGTV. Many of us keep the TV or radio on when we are gone so our dogs won’t feel lonely, but no one really knows what the dogs truly find entertaining.

Mowat wants to know what videos keep a dog “engaged.” To design a meaningful eye test of vision, she needs to know what dogs are interested in watching, and is asking you to take this survey with your dog. It’s easy and fun.

There are some questions about how your dog responds to screens, including TVs, computers, laptops, cell phones, iPads and tablets.

There also are videos to play for your dog to see whether they hold your dog’s attention. Videos could potentially be the key to holding a dog’s attention long enough to gather critical information about visual function.

More than 700 people took the survey from all over the world within the first two weeks. Dogs in Wisconsin shared the same videos with dogs in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and beyond.

Your participation will help veterinarians learn more about dog behavior such as “do dogs watch TV when we are not at home?”

It also allows veterinarian ophthalmologists to design an eye chart for dogs that will help us learn how a dog’s vision declines with age. This can help physicians understand this same phenomena in humans because dog’s eyes are similar to ours but their life spans are shorter and they can be our “sentinels.”

It will also show changes in eyesight from disease, and may help identify environmental factors, such as chemical exposure, that could affect household dogs prior to humans.

My daughter and I did the survey and looked at the videos at the end of the survey with our Dalmatian, Jasper, and Boston terrier, Bosco, and we all enjoyed it. The dogs were funny, tilting heads to the side, tracking cars and trucks, dogs and birds moving across the computer screen, and sniffing the screen.

It really helps Mowat’s research to do the survey, and it’s a lot of fun.

— dr Bonnie Franklin is a retired veterinarian who grew up in Santa Barbara. She earned her doctorate of veterinary medicine from a joint program of Washington State and Oregon State universities, a master’s degree in wildlife biology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and does consulting work with the US Forest Service. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.