in the dark: blindness in pets

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Dr. Kim Smyth
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Mar 08 2013
Dachshund dog with glasses | Blindness in pets | Petplan

Blindness is not uncommon in the world of our companion animals. Dogs and cats both can be affected by blindness, and in turn, so too are we as their owners. In fact, I think sometimes it is the owners who have the hardest time with pet blindness!

I have counseled many a pet owner through their pet’s transition to blindness, and am happy to report that after an initial “settling in,” everyone continues life in much the same way as they used to. Remember, though sight is important, the senses of hearing and smell are much more useful to our pets.

Blindness occurs for many reasons in pets. Some pets are born blind, while others come to it later in life.

Countless medical conditions cause or contribute to blindness, including:

Glaucoma

High blood pressure

Sudden acquire retinal degeneration (SARDS)

Retinal dysplasia

Cataracts

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), or dry eye

Each dog or cat will deal with blindness differently, just as their unique personalities lead them to deal with everything in life differently.

Several factors play a role in how they react to their blindness:

Age

Some pets are born blind and some acquire blindness later in life. A pet’s age at blindness shapes the way they react.

Health

General health at the time of blindness plays a role in a pet’s response to blindness. Older dogs may also suffer from cognitive dysfunction, making blindness all the more confusing.

Onset of blindness

Certainly whether blindness was sudden or gradual changes our pet’s reaction to it.

Personality

Is your pet naturally bold or timid? Nervous or confident? These personality traits should be considered when helping him cope with blindness.

Consider your pet as an individual as you guide each other through the tribulations that blindness may bring.

The following tips may help your pet with vision loss:

1. Make your home safe for your blind pet. Get down on your hands and knees to look for trouble spots. Getting a “pet’s eye view” of the home can alert you to potential hazards to blind animals.

2. Gate off the stairs. It’s likely that your pet will avoid the stairs anyway, because he remembers where they are from his sighted days, but it’s best to avoid an accidental tumble when we can.

3. Make a “home base” for your pet. Include a soft bed, food and water, and a crate. Also include a litter box if you’re dealing with a cat. Make sure your pet knows where this safe haven is.

4. Keep your pet’s surroundings as constant as possible. Do your best to not rearrange the furniture--your pet relies a lot on memory to navigate through the house.

5. Resist the urge to carry cats and small dogs. They need to learn how to cope on their own. Similarly, try not to coddle your blind pets excessively. Some reassurance is fine, of course, but don’t allow them to become dependent on you for their every whim.

I do not mean to minimize the impact that blindness may have on our pets. Some pets fare better than others initially. Depression, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, and personality changes are to be expected at first, but I think you’ll find that before you know it, life will be back to normal for you and your blind pet.