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Shades for Scruffy?

Sunglasses for dogs have long been a fun fashion statement, but could they really serve a purpose? Surprisingly, the answer is, yes, sometimes.
With her snazzy eyewear, Gracie is one hot dog. But some owners rely on the glasses for more than just a fashion statement.
With her snazzy eyewear, Gracie is one hot dog. But some owners rely on the glasses for more than just a fashion statement.Arden Moore

When Jill James and Deb Moore of Allen, Texas, planned a visit to California with Gracie, their poodle mix, they naturally bought her a pair of Doggles — strap-on eyewear that offers UV protection and impact-resistant lenses — so she’d fit in with the cool cats and doggie divas in the Golden State.

Sunglasses for dogs have long been a fun fashion statement, but could they really serve a purpose? Surprisingly, the answer is, yes, sometimes.

Everyone knows dogs love to hang their heads out car windows. But that wind rushing through their fur can also blow dust or debris into their eyes. Because dogs are so scent-driven, they’re constantly sticking their noses in places where they might or might not belong — and the eyes are right there with them.

Hiking, running in and out of bushes, catching balls or flying discs, running on the beach, rough play with other pets, or a new puppy or kitten in the home all offer opportunities for dogs to injure their eyes, says veterinarian Jennifer Welser, a board-certified ophthalmologist at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists.

Skipper, a golden retriever, has been wearing Doggles, which come in several styles and cost $12 to $22, for a couple of years. He belongs to Todd Hurley of Escanaba, Mich., and the two spend much of their time boating on Green Bay’s Little Bay de Noc. Hurley bought the Doggles for fun, but he was also concerned about potential eye damage from sunlight reflecting off the water.

Skipper’s veterinarian thought the Doggles were a good idea as well, although Welser notes that dogs with normal, healthy eyes don’t face much risk of damage from bright sunlight. Eyewear reduces glare, however, making it more comfortable for the dog to be outdoors.

Guarding against injuries
Hurley says that although the sight of a dog in sunglasses brings lots of grins and jokes on the dock, they’ve caught on among a few other dog owners. “We have friends who have a pair of goldens that also wear Doggles,” he says. “They take them a lot on four-wheelers, so they like them for that because of the branches and things.”

Some dogs benefit from eye protection simply because of their anatomy. They’re the ones with large, protruding eyeballs. Breeds at risk include pugs, Boston terriers and French bulldogs. In these flat-faced dogs, the eyes are just sticking out there asking for trouble. Dogs such as golden or Labrador retrievers have a longer muzzle that puts a buffer between them and where they stick their nose, Welser says, and their eyes are more enclosed within the bony orbit. “The conformation of the dog can make a big difference in how well the eyes are protected,” she says.

Protective eyewear for dogs has also found a place in search and rescue and military work. Tammy Stevenson, an Army Reserves veterinarian who was serving in Oman and Afghanistan in 2003, discovered that protective eyewear made a difference for the dogs in her care.

“A lot of military working dogs were working in pretty sandy, dry environments with a lot of blowing sand, and they were getting corneal ulcerations and some pretty recurrent conjunctivitis,” she says. “One of my colleagues from home had been using Doggles on her own dog, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s something to try, at least.’ The company donated several pairs to us, and the dogs were pretty receptive (to wearing them). We saw a huge decrease in the number of eye injuries we were seeing in those environments.”

Protective eyewear benefits dogs with certain eye conditions as well. Pannus is a UV-light-induced disease that’s most commonly seen in German shepherds, although it occasionally affects other dogs. Tinted eyewear with UV-protection could reduce UV light exposure in dogs with the disease, says veterinarian Patricia Smith of Animal Eye Care in Fremont, Calif.

Should your German Shepherd wear sunglasses as a preventive measure? It’s probably not necessary unless the dog has been diagnosed with pannus, and then the eyewear might help prevent the disease from worsening in dogs that spend a lot of time in the sun, Smith says.

Normal aging can affect a dog’s ability to regulate bright light coming into its eyes. So if your dog seems sensitive to light — squinting or closing its eyes on a sunny day — eyewear might be something to consider.

“The iris, which forms the pupil and [controls] dilations and constriction, is basically a muscle, and it can poop out over time,” Welser says. “The dog could be uncomfortable if the pupil’s not constricting and it can’t filter out the light.”

Vision correction not common
While eyewear can often serve a protective purpose, it's almost never necessary to correct vision. In rare instances, however, dogs that have had certain types of cataract surgery may benefit from corrective eyewear. In most cases, an artificial lens is implanted at the time of surgery. Sometimes that's not possible, however, which means that the dog is left farsighted, unable to focus on objects close up.

"What does that means to owners?" Welser says. "It means that you could throw the ball and they'd go tearing after it and hit a zone two or three feet out where they don't have quite the focusing power. Or you're holding a treat in front of their face and you realize they're bobbing to get to the treat."

Corrective Doggles are available to solve that problem for people who want their dogs to have every advantage. "I've had a couple of clients who were going to order Doggles with corrective lenses, but none have given me any feedback, so I'm not sure whether they even ordered them," Welser says. "So I don't know whether it's really practical or if people really see a difference. And dogs adjust so darn well."

There’s one potential drawback to canine eyewear: getting the dog to cooperate.

“Gracie didn’t like them that much,” James says. “When I put them on her, she would start slinking like, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ ”

As always, fashion is in the eye of the beholder.

Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning author who has written many articles and more than a dozen books about dogs and cats. She belongs to the Dog Writers Association of America and is past president of the Cat Writers Association. She shares her home in California with three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and one African ringneck parakeet.

Creature Comforts appears the third Monday of every month.