The thought of our pets going blind is sad and scary. We hate to think of our dogs or cats having a reduced quality of life in any way. However, with proper at-home care, most animals adjust very well to blindness and maintain a great quality of life.
Before determining the best way to treat and adjust to your pet’s condition, we need to figure out what caused him or her to go blind, and whether or not there’s any pain associated with the condition. Ocular conditions such as cataracts and retinal detachment are pain-free and quite possibly treatable to regain vision. Other conditions, like glaucoma, are painful and may lead to permanent vision loss.
Our primary focus for patients with permanent blindness is pain management. Once we’re confident that they’re no longer in pain, we transition to helping them adjust to their environment. Much like in humans, when a dog or cat loses sight, other senses typically adapt and improve to surrounding sensory information. Hearing, touch and smell become important for these animals.
Blindness and Hearing
To play up your pet’s enhanced sense of hearing, you can:
- Buy toys that have a constant sound (even when they’re not being squeezed or shaken) to allow the animal to find the location of the toy through hearing and still enjoy playing with it.
- Teach your dog directional cues before all vision is lost. Many dogs may respond to their owner’s commands such as “left”, “right”, “step”, etc. These voice cues empower dogs to better adjust to their surroundings.
Blindness and Smell
Dogs have a very strong sense of smell and they will utilize their nose much more when they are blind. To help them take advantage of this strength, you should:
- Serve food and treats that have a strong odor so your dog can find them much easier.
- Buy toys with a sense of smell which may also allow them to locate the toy.
- Leave articles of clothing laying around to help alleviate anxiety. Your scent may provide a sense of comfort to them when you’re not around.
Blindness at Home
If your pet becomes blind, you’ll essentially need to baby-proof your house. Not only will this help your dog or cat better adapt, it may also prevent a traumatic and potentially life-threatening situation. Take a step back and think about how you need to:
- Limit access to parts of the house where the dog may easily get lost or confused and not be able to find their way out (i.e. closets).
- Also, limit access to things such as swimming pools and steps, as dogs can fall in the pool and drown or stumble and fall down the steps.
- Limit the movement of any furniture, food bowls, dog bed, etc. Our animals keep a map of familiar places and things in their brain and will likely be able to find these objects more easily if they’re not moved or adjusted.
- There are also some harnesses or halos available that extend around the animals body and allow them to bump into walls with the harness/halo instead of their nose. This will also allow them to get used to their environment confidently without bumping their nose/face and hurting themselves.
With all of these tips, the most important thing to remember is that blindness does not have to mean the end of life. Many dogs and cats can go on to lead a happy, healthy, pain-free life with a little extra attention from their owners.
If you feel like your pet’s vision is starting to fade, schedule an appointment with your primary vet for an exam. If more in-depth examination or advanced treatment is needed, ask for a referral to me at CARE. My goal as an ophthalmologist is to offer the best treatment options available to provide comfort, preserve vision and maintain a good long-term quality of life.