Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Most dogs and cats cope very well with vision loss. They rely more on the sense of smell than on the sense of sight. Blind animals can have happy, comfortable lives with some help from their owners.
Pets with gradual vision loss often adapt so well that their owners don’t realize their pets are having trouble seeing until they’re completely blind and bumping into things. Animals with sudden blindness can take longer to adjust.
Safety and Navigation
Use gates and other barriers to block a blind animal’s access to stairs, swimming pools, fireplaces, and other dangers. Use foam cushioning (child safety equipment) to pad furniture corners. Keep the floor clear of trip hazards like toys and laundry.
Keep blind animals in a crate or other secure space whenever they’re unsupervised, at least while they’re adjusting to their loss of vision. This space can also become a safe, familiar retreat.
Blind animals can have a hard time navigating stairs, especially descending. Be patient and use a harness and treats to show blind dogs how to manage stairs. Consider covering short runs of steps with a ramp. Nonslip strips applied to stair treads might make a blind pet feel more secure. Dogs and cats that sleep on furniture might need a ramp or steps so they don’t have to jump up and down.
To help blind pets learn their way around the house, don’t pick them up and carry them; let them walk on their own. Different floor surfaces (mats or rugs) can help them identify specific areas like doorways and the location of food and water bowls. A radio left on at all times in one room and scents applied to furniture at the pet’s head height can also help orient them inside the house.
Face whiskers help animals feel obstacles, so don’t have their whiskers trimmed at grooming appointments. Vests with circular extensions around the head or chest (halo vests) are available for blind dogs who keep bumping into things.
Exercise and Mental Health
Blind animals need exercise just like every other animal, but they shouldn’t go outdoors unsupervised. Even a small fenced yard can have holes and fallen branches that would pose a risk to a blind pet. If you don’t have a fenced yard that’s safe and familiar to your dog, keep your dog on a leash.
When walking your blind dog, attach the leash to a harness instead of a collar in case you need to pull your dog away from a hazard. Teach your dog verbal cues like “left,” “right,” and “stop.” An unexpected touch can frighten a blind dog, so warn people who approach that your dog is blind. Consider using a dog vest with the words “Blind dog” or “Do not pet.” Be very careful if another dog approaches while you’re walking your dog. A blind dog can’t read other dogs’ body language. If you let your dog interact with another dog, be sure that the other dog is friendly and that your dog is comfortable with the interaction.
Provide toys that stimulate senses other than sight. Use toys with bells (with supervision—bells can be a choking hazard), catnip toys for cats, and tracking games for dogs who enjoy following scents. For some animals, playing contact games like tug of war might be easier than chasing toys by sound or scent.
Some animals experience anxiety while they’re adjusting to vision loss. Keep your pet’s routine consistent, stay positive around your pet, and provide a safe retreat like a crate. Behavior changes like hiding, reluctance to walk or play, growling, barking, and snapping can all be signs of anxiety. Contact your veterinarian if your pet has any of these changes or seems to be having trouble adapting. Some pets benefit from short-term or long-term prescription anxiety medications.
For more ideas, see the ACVO Vision for Animals Foundation website: https://www.visionforanimals.org/coping-with-a-blind-dog/
Image source: https://unsplash.com/photos/SEX4KAz9ExQ
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.