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Blindness and your Pet
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Blindness and your Pet

General

Blindness or visual impairment can occur in any animal. You may suddenly find yourself with a pet that has been blind from birth, suffers trauma or one that gradually loses their sight.

First, what are the signs that your pet is beginning to lose its sight?

  • Temperament - A once confident pet may become fearful and aggressive. They may become shy, stressing at noises or startled when you touch them.
  • Clumsiness – Is your pet beginning to walk into things? Falling over more frequently or just generally disorientated.
  • Activity – Has their activity levels diminished? Does a playful pet no longer show any enthusiasm for play? You may notice, in cats particularly, a reluctance to jump.
  • Eyes – The most common sign is a change in the appearance of eyes. They can become cloudy, or the pupils remain fixed, meaning they never change in size to light.

Second, what are the most common causes of blindness?

  • Cataracts – Are the most common cause, especially in our older pets. This is a gradual loss which would be noticeable as cloudiness in the lens of the eye.
  • Glaucoma – Is a particularly painful condition which is the build-up of pressure in the pet’s eye which in turn impairs the optic nerve and the pet’s ability to see. Treatment of eye drops will be administered but if it’s not successful eye removal may be the only outcome to prevent further pain.
  • Corneal Ulcers – Originally caused by trauma, if left untreated can cause a loss of sight.
  • Macular Degeneration – Is common, particularly in our older pets
  • Other – There are other conditions such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy and Sudden Retinal Degeneration Syndrome, which can be hereditary and for which there is no treatment.

Whatever the cause, by taking your pet to the veterinary surgeon, they can talk you through the condition and if any options to restore your pet’s sight are available.

How to make your blind pet’s life more comfortable?

Halo

For sudden sight loss, in particular, you may find building your dog a halo helps. This is something that can attach to a harness, meaning the halo bumps into any objects before they do, protecting them from injuries.

Create a Safe Area

Give them a place. Somewhere they can retreat to feel safe, that’s comfortable, warm and familiar. Using DAP or Feliway Diffusers in this area, along with an item of clothing that smells of you can help them to relax.

Layout

Keep your home layout the same, they will become used to navigating their way around furniture and doors. Avoid changing it until they are more confident. If you do decide to make changes, do it gradually.

Hazards

See your home from your pet’s perspective, even if that means crawling around on the floor. This will help you to identify any potential hazards. Look for sharp edges (to which you can add padding), electrical cables and hotspots such as fires. Keep the floor clear from objects such as toys and clothes.

Location

Place rugs down so your pet can identify different floor coverings and recognise where they are. Using a radio or television in a certain part of the house is also a good indicator and will help them to feel less lonely when the house is empty. Use different scents in different places. Citrus can be used to indicate care, such as before the kitchen or at the top of the stairs. With scents like pine in more neutral areas. Make sure they are sprayed at your pet’s height level.

Food, Water & Litter Trays

Keep them in the same place to avoid stress. Water fountains are useful as they create a sound which your pet can navigate to. Placing textured mats under bowls can help them to feel their way.

Your Voice

Keep it soothing and talk to them often so they can hear where you are. Make sure you speak to them BEFORE you touch them.

Bells

Attach a bell to yourself and other pets. This may prevent your pet from nipping due to being alarmed by your presence.

Toys

To encourage them to play use toys which have a bell, something with noise or heavily scented, so they can find it. Allowing your dog to track a scented toy can keep them stimulated.

Routine

Keep it the same, as with anything our pet’s need routine to keep them relaxed.

The Garden

Needs to be checked for hazards too. Create sensory areas, for example, a wind chime by the back door so they can navigate their way back inside. Bark chips or small pebbles around dangers such as trees and plant pots can warn your pet. They will in time, as they have indoors, be able to map their way around the garden. It would be wise to keep cats indoors.

Harness

If your dog uses a collar and lead change them to a harness instead. This will place less stress on your dog, particularly on the eyes. You’ll also have more control.

Walking

Keep your blind dog on the lead and whilst walking keep an eye out for potential hazards at their level, such as branches. It’s worthwhile walking the same route too, they will feel comfortable in the familiarity.

Others

Let others know your dog is blind. There are coats or bandannas that warn others not to unexpectedly touch or shock your dog, and to put their dog on a lead.

Train

Train your dog again – new words which will help them. ‘Watch’, ‘Step’, ‘Slow’ to warn them on things such as steps, near roads. It’s also useful to vary your tone. Low for more urgent hazards. Tap on steps so they can hear the height/drop.

Blindness in your pet is not the end. They can cope and adapt incredibly well leading perfectly happy lives. If your pet is becoming blind talk to your vet who will guide you through the process.

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