A dog losing their vision feels very overwhelming for us humans. That’s because we rely on visual information a lot more than they do. Our dogs, on the other hand, actually derive their most important insights of the world from their senses of smell and hearing. And this allows them to adapt remarkably well to visual impairment. Here's what you need to know about helping your blind pet live a happy, healthy life.
When your pet goes blind, it's a huge adjustment not only for them, but also for you and anybody else who loves and cares about your pet. When dogs lose their vision gradually (as occurs with conditions like cataracts) they can adapt relatively seamlessly because they have time to make memory maps of their environment. For this reason, many people may not even realise the extent of their dog’s vision impairment. On the other hand, when a dog goes blind suddenly (in conditions such as Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome/SARDS), it can come as a big shock to them (and us) and you may notice a significant change in their behaviour and confidence. But rest assured, with time, they will develop their mind map and they’ll eventually regain their confidence and mobility.
Even though dogs can lead a relatively normal life while blind, it’s important for us to make some adaptations to their environment and lifestyle in order to make things easier for your dog and those around them.
See your home from their angle You don't have to walk a mile in their paws (that would be pretty messy, not to mention hard.) But crawling around your home helps you make it safer for your blind pet. Even if you've already taken care of other common household dangers for your dog, there's a good chance you'll still have some work to do to accommodate for their vision loss. If they’ve lost their vision suddenly, adding padded protectors to all sharp corners and edges at your dog's height could help soften any bumps. Using an Elizabethan Collar or a specific harness/bumper for blind dogs can help protect their head from bangs as they navigate around the house. Look for areas that could present falling or tripping hazards for your pet. Baby gates are a great way to prevent your dog from taking a tumble down the stairs.
Consistency is key While some say love is blind, we say love is crucial for your blind dog. Remaining a constant in their lives and sticking to routines helps them get used to life without sight. Keep their food and water in the same spot, and help them figure out how to find them. And don't change your home's layout once you've rearranged it, as that can cause more confusion. Blind dogs will probably need to be taken outside to the toilet, particularly at the start when navigation can be confusing. As time goes on, many dogs will be able to go outside by themselves and even use the doggy door!
Work on your chat When dogs go blind, other senses such as their hearing and smell get even better. So communicating with your dog verbally becomes all the more important for letting them know you're there. You don't want to startle your four-legged friend, so gently announce your presence before sneaking up on them.
Keep up the exercise Much more than a dog-friendly New Year's resolution, it's key to continue walks and other daily exercise. Just because they can't see doesn't mean they can't benefit from physical activity and time outside. Adjust playing fetch with your dog by rubbing strong-smelling food on their treats or toys so they can follow their nose. And remember to play in a safe, open area. Avoid busy dog parks as this can be overwhelming - try visiting the off lead areas at quieter times. Using bells or jingling your car keys can also help them come back to you when they wander off.
Learn some new tricks That's right, you really can teach an old (or blind) dog new tricks. Spend some time training your dog with new cues and to help them adjust to their new situation. Work on commands such as step up, step down and stop, all of which are all useful for moving inside and outside. And continue with their regular obedience training to improve their confidence.
Show it so they know it Having a blind dog is nothing to be ashamed of. Help those you meet when you're out and about by adding a cute bandana or jacket that says your dog's blind. This can help others approach your pet more comfortably. Also add a tag to your dog's collar that says they're blind in case your pet gets away. Advise other dog owners that your dog is blind so that they don’t walk their dogs straight towards yours.
Toys with noise Having new toys that squeak, talk back or make some other form of noise is a great way to keep your blind four-legged friend happily entertained. Toys that also house food are great for your dog's heightened senses of smell and taste.
Leave the TV on If your dog's going to be home by themself, try turning the TV on for a bit of company. This creates some background noise and can help keep your dog calm and better aware of their surroundings.
And while change is hard, particularly the emotional adjustment for us, try to remember that dogs are a lot more resilient than we are. They adapt to these changes better than we do and they live in the moment. So if your dog has lost their vision, remind yourself that they can still navigate the world and live a normal life full of love, treats and play.
If you are concerned about your pet’s vision or their eyes look abnormal, it’s important to visit your vet urgently because sometimes treatments can be started that may save their vision. Some dogs with eye problems are in a great deal of pain, so don’t delay veterinary treatment that could improve their comfort and quality of life. If you have any questions or need some advice, your vet or animal behaviourist can assist you more with this new adjustment.
Is your dog in the process of losing their vision? Are you the proud parent of a blind dog? Let us know what you've learned along the way in the comments below!