How can we test a dog’s aging eyes? Give them an eye chart and ask if the little E is blurry? It probably won’t work. So now they’re asking dog owners around the world their help.
It’s a seemingly simple question, but with no easy answer in sight. When humans go to the eye doctor, we sit down and look at an eye chart. Our ability – or lack thereof – to read increasingly smaller letters may indicate age-related vision loss.
“There is no way to test this method on a dog,” Freya Mowatassistant professor of ophthalmology in the department of surgical sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says Reverse.
So Mowat thought of something else: By determining what content dogs find most visually appealing, such as the type of television they watch while curled up on the couch with their owners, she could develop a visual test that dogs might actually have the attention span for . And now they’re asking dog owners everywhere for their help in figuring out what TV dogs actually like.
How Do TV Habits Help Decompress Vision in Dogs?
As a veterinary ophthalmologist, Mowat worked hard trying to develop a vision test for dogs that would be equivalent to the eye chart used by humans.
Since dogs and small children are somewhat similar in development, Mowat first attempted to apply the children’s vision test to canines. Instead of using the adult vision test, eye doctors hold up cards with bands that vary in thickness, similar to the different-sized letters on adult cards.
Unfortunately, the test couldn’t hold the dogs’ attention long enough for vets to check their vision. Part of the problem is that “dogs get bored very quickly,” says Mowat.
After this experience, Mowat realized “we really need to start thinking outside the box beyond what is already done in any type of person”.
His research team realized that video content — like shows on your TV — could be engaging enough to hold a dog’s attention because it taps into a dog’s natural instincts as a predator. .
“Something that moves is probably more likely to grab their attention and keep it,” says Mowat.
But before Mowat can begin bringing dogs into a lab to view video content and ultimately develop a vision test, she would first need to understand the type of content that best engages many dogs of different breeds.
How to participate in the dog study
Mowat has developed an online platform investigation in which any dog owner from all over the world can participate. The questionnaire takes approximately 15 minutes and she ensures that confidentiality is maintained.
Ultimately, Mowat hopes to get thousands of responses over the next few months to inform her future research. The link to the questionnaire is available here.
“What we want to do with this survey is establish meaningful content for us to do lab studies with companion dogs,” Mowat says.
But if you want to know a little more about how Mowat got here — and how your dog’s TV habits could possibly help researchers develop a vision test for dogs — then read on.
“It’s the first step on a long road,” says Mowat.
Once the researchers determine the most appealing visual content based on the questionnaire responses, they could use this content to develop a vision test in the future. It’s unclear what it would look like, but it could involve bleaching the contents or making it smaller to test the eyesight of the puppies. But first, they need to hook the dogs with exciting content that will grab their attention.
“If we don’t get the right content, then the test is useless,” says Mowat.
How this dog research could help humans
After Mowat completed her clinical residency in ophthalmology, she says she came out “with this kind of deep understanding of dog vision.”
She has a specific reason for wanting to study vision: it’s a clear measure of aging. Some markers of vision decline with age.
“You see the implications of vision loss in people as causing and contributing to things like social isolation, depression, anxiety, dependency on others,” Mowat says.
Since humans spend so much of their time in close proximity to their canine companions, it’s possible that environmental or other factors contributing to age-related vision loss in dogs are also present in their human owners.
“They snuggle up to them at night, they share their dinners with them, they go for a run with them in the park,” says Mowat, adding, “The environment and our way of life are somehow linked between the dog and the animal. ‘human.”
By studying aging in dogs, you can potentially better understand how humans age, too — and on a much shorter time scale, since dogs’ lifespans are only a fraction of the average human lifespan. If there are environmental issues that impact age-related vision problems in dogs, researchers may be able to determine if similar issues persist in humans living in the same household. This is why it is so crucial to develop an equivalent eye test for dogs, just as there is for humans.
“Even though the tests are not identical, they are testing the same component of our health,” Mowat says.