Living with a Blind or Partially Blind Dog
As our beloved dogs grow older it can be extremely upsetting for us to realise that they may become blind and their vision is not what it used to be. Having said this of course blindness isn’t by any means age specific and can affect dogs of all ages but as our companions age we tend to be more aware of changes in their health and wellbeing. There are many reasons for blindness in dogs and numerous ways to support and help them to continue to have a happy healthy active life. Blindness can be partial, due to an injury or illness or even a birth defect which only manifests later in life or suddenly occur due to other circumstances such as SARDS which is Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome or even diabetes if it is not well-regulated..
Naturally, it goes without saying that the first step when you are aware of any eye related issues is to go to your vet for advice and they will either prescribe specific eye drops or medication for your dog’s condition or advise you to see an ophthalmologist specialist. Ask as many questions as you can so that you are fully aware of the process your dog will be going through and the best ways to help with making positive changes for them.
One of the main problems we humans have is that we need to understand that it is much harder for us to cope with the dog’s blindness than the dog itself. They live so much in the moment and in all honesty their sight could have been deteriorating long before we actually were aware of the changes. Because they are so in tune with our emotions it is vitally important that we do not change the way we treat them by suddenly mollycoddling them and if they are small dogs, suddenly picking them up all the time rather than letting them go around as before. Rather help them adapt and make sure their lives carry on as normal as possible allowing them to adjust naturally to their loss of sight.
Here are some things you can do to help both you and your dog.
- Always talk to your dog in the normal voice you used before there was any loss of sight. Begin to talk more often and start teaching new “cue” words. For instance if you have a flight of stairs in your house as they approach the first one say the word “step” or “slow down” – whatever you feel is appropriate and be consistent with your new word. Your tone of voice will also help them and very quickly they will learn that you are guiding them to avoid any unnecessary injury. Give them a special treat to reward them for learning the new words. You can even put a special mat in front of the first step and say the word “mat” and teach them to wait before taking a step up. Again giving them a guide that the step is coming up next.
- You can also use baby gates until your dog is 100% sure of how to manoeuver up and down.
- If you have sharp edges on tables, chairs or gates put padding around them.
- Don’t startle your dog by suddenly touching him so make sure you have his attention first – again use your voice to alert him.
- Keep to your normal daily routine with walking, feeding, going to the park etc.
- Teach him to walk around your garden giving different cue words in an environment that he is used to so that when you go outside he will be able to navigate easily. For instance use words such as “turn left”, “slow down”, “turn right” or “careful.
- Use the same routes as you have always done previously.
- Keep the food and water bowls in the same spots inside and outside your house. This makes it much easier if he is on his own and needs to find the water bowl.
- If you have a water-feature in your garden make sure the water bubbles so that your dog will be aware of it as he comes towards it.
- If he enjoys playing ball games you can rub either a drop of essential oil on the toy or yummy food like liver bread or viennas before throwing it for him to fetch. His scent and sound are now his main senses and you will be amazed how he will follow and locate his toys.
- You can also use toys that squeak or make noises.
- Give him Kongs with strong smelling treats inside to find and play with.
- If you go to a new area then always have him on a lead and harness and help him navigate around the new environment. Again using “cue” words which you have already taught him in your garden such as “turn left” etc. He will then be able to get around very easily.
- Always make sure the area is totally safe beforehand.
- If you are meeting other dogs out walking make sure you know the other dogs are sociable before putting your dog in any danger. Ask the owner before any meets and greets. If in doubt then don’t put your dog at risk.
- If children come up to greet your dog make sure they are calm and gentle and do not startle him in any way. Explain the situation and let your dog sniff them first. Use treats to help him.
- Create a “safe area” for your dog. This can be the area where his crate, bed and food bowl are located. So should he get confused or you have to go out and leave him for any reason he can be quite safe and comfortable on his own.
- Again if you have to go out leave a radio or television on so the familiar sound will help keep him relaxed.
- Carpet squares can also be useful to alert your dog where doorways and other obstacles are located. Using a cue word that you have already taught him.
- A wind chime outside can also help him locate the front door or area that he is used to.
- Fence off hazardous areas outside your home such as ponds or swimming pools to protect your dog.
- In addition to an identification chip, get a tag for your dog’s collar that says, “I’m blind.”
- If your dog goes to a groomer or is going to a boarding kennel make sure all the relevant people know about his condition.
These are some of the ways you can help your blind or visually impaired dog adapt to his new situation. So with patience and some special training you and he can still enjoy many years of happiness together.
By Joanna, Caregiver