Dealing with blind pets Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Tuesday, 25 September 2018 15:19
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

Pets go blind. Most often it is a gradual decrease in visual acuity due to ageing degeneration of the lens. Some breeds of dogs are predisposed to retinal conditions that cause more acute onset vision loss. Cats are predisposed to retinal detachment from high blood pressure. Infections or inflammations within the eye can cause glaucoma and loss of vision due to the increased pressure within the eye.

The retina is made up of nerves and is extremely sensitive to pressure and the damage is permanent.

We are often very distressed at this diagnosis, but pets can generally cope well with blindness. It is not painful, unless there is a problem within the eye itself, such as glaucoma, where removal of the eye (enucleation) is indicated.

There is no hope for vision in these eyes and there is no humane reason to keep a chronically painful eye just for aesthetic reasons. Your pet will be happier eyeless and it will also take less daily care with cleaning and drops.

Most blind animals will show a rapid adjustment to their environment. Blind dogs make better use of their other senses and the senses of smell and hearing in a dog are far superior to that of humans.

There are some simple things to do to improve the life of a blind pet. It is a good idea to get your blind pet a companion, which often acts as ‘guide dogs’ for the blind animal. Increased activity will also lead to more rapid learning of the environment.

Don’t rearrange furniture, as your pet will bump itself, become disoriented and then trust itself less – negatively affecting mobility. Close cupboard doors and put chairs under the table. 

Don’t pick up your pet and put him down in another part of the house. This can be confusing. Allowing your pet to move around freely in the house allows him to map out the area.

Talk to your dog often. Let him know where you are and give a simple typical verbal cue before you touch him. Small bells or charms can be attached to the collars of other pets to alert the blind dog to their approach.

For dangerous areas such as steps, either place non-slip carpeting to warn the dog that he is at the top of the stairs, or place baby gates to barricade them off. Coming down stairs is more difficult than ascending stairs for blind dogs.

If the flight of stairs is short, place a ramp with sidings. I find that placing a mat on both the bottom and the top landings is a good idea. The top landing to warn that steps are approaching and the bottom to indicate that the last step has been reached and prevent slipping on a smooth floor surface.

Watch out for the swimming pool. Rather fence it in. Even if your dog can swim, he may become disoriented. Put food and water down in exactly the same place every day as a site of reference for your pet. If he becomes disorientated, take him to his basket or food area as a landmark.

Drinking fountains work very well, as the sound of water helps with orientation. The surface on which the food is placed, a mat or plastic runner, will also provide tactile input.

A large carpet without any furniture on it can become a ‘safe’ play area for a smaller blind dog. He can feel where the carpet ends and will know that within that square there is no risk of bumping into things or falling.

Try different scents in each room. Toys with squeakers and with special scents are ideal as the dog is now relying on scent and smell. Place a wind chime at the front or back door to allow dogs to locate the doors more easily.

Let other people know that your dog is blind – a bandana or vest with “I am blind” will help. People will then be more aware not to just reach out and touch your pet. Rather avoid contact with visiting young children who will not understand.

Although most dogs adjust remarkably well to blindness, a subsection of animals will struggle, such as those that are deaf as well. Older animals with early signs of dementia (senility) do not learn as easily and may take longer to adjust. Adjust their diet to Hills B/D to improve cognitive function, which may help with the adjustment to blindness. Medications are available to assist with cognitive dysfunction.

Cats are similar with regards to keeping things in the same place and talking to them.  Allowing a blind cat outdoors is ill advised unless the garden is smallish and 100% properly enclosed. Feed on the floor. If your cat still wants to jump onto surfaces then make sure they are clear. A cat’s sense of smell is not as well developed as a dog’s. So, hearing and sensory whiskers will help map out the environment.

My own older dog is now 16, almost totally deaf, her sight is starting to deteriorate and she is senile.

The water bowl is in a fixed position, her bed is always in the same place and there are carpets to prevent her from slipping. There are non-slip mats at the landings of the stairs. She has two baskets in designated areas in the house and two sleeping areas outside in the sun or shade.

Deaf and old as she is, she knows when I get home and comes from the courtyard as I drive in every day. So, don’t underestimate how dogs use their remaining senses to compensate, but apply practical steps to help them and allow them to be confident in their environment. Don’t allow them to live in isolation if their sight, hearing and cognitive faculties are no longer optimal.

There are veterinary specialist ophthalmologists at the Johannesburg Animal Eye Hospital in Fourways and on certain days at Onderstepoort Veterinary Hospital. Contact 011-465-1237.


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