The loss of vision is a significant event for both humans and animals. As humans, we are emotionally and psychologically affected by the loss of this important sense. Animals tend to accept and adapt to the loss much more easily. Both dogs and cats are much better at using their senses of smell and hearing than we are, and when their vision is impaired, they can use these other senses to compensate for the loss.
Your pet’s response to the loss of vision will vary depending on whether it is sudden or gradual. Some pets that lose their sight gradually will adapt to their condition so well that the owners hardly notice they are going blind. A pet that becomes suddenly blind may have more difficulty at first, but with some help from their owners they quickly learn to adjust to the change.
It is natural for you to feel upset or angry over your pet’s loss of vision, but it is important for you to remember that your pet still loves you and still finds joy in the same activities as before. The following hints can help you make your environment safe for your visually impaired pet, and make your life together fulfilling.
- Avoid doing anything that would change your pet’s environment, such as rearranging furniture. If it is necessary to move objects around, try to move one piece at a time, and allow your pet to adjust to each change individually. Speak often to your pet in a calm, relaxing tone. They can use your voice to orient themselves.
- Keep your pet’s food and water dishes in the same place. They can serve as a reference point in the house or yard so that your pet can orient himself if he gets “lost.” This also applies to your pet’s bed, if he has one.
- Your pet may benefit from having a “safe place” inside the house. This would be a spot out of the way of traffic that he can retreat to if things become hectic. This could be important if you entertain guests frequently, or have small children who frequently play in the house. Your pet can go to his “safe place” and be assured that he won’t be stepped on or be in the way. You can place a bed in the safe area for his comfort.
- Until your pet has completely adjusted to his vision loss, it is important to place barriers at the top of stairs. Stairs are one of the most difficult things for a blind pet to “re-learn” and may take some time. The barrier will prevent your pet from accidentally falling down the stairs if he becomes disoriented.
- Apply some of your favorite perfume to the legs of furniture as well as other objects your pet may bump into. When your pet smells the perfume, he will learn to slow down and navigate more carefully. This can also be used in the middle of each step to help going up and down a stairway.
- Exercise is important! A small fenced yard allows your pet freedom, while ensuring safety. Always check the area for hidden hazards before turning your pet out. Teaching your pet to walk on a leash (if he didn’t know before) is also a great idea. A few simple commands such as “careful” or “step” will be quickly learned by your pet and can make your walks easier on you both.
- If you have a swimming pool or hot tub, make sure that it is fenced off so that your pet cannot accidentally fall in.
- Even if your pet is blind, it is important to observe his eyes daily for any changes. Reddening of the eyes, pawing and rubbing at the eyes, or an increase in size of the eye are some of the things you should look for. If these or any other symptoms occur, please contact our ophthalmology department or your regular veterinarian for advice.
- Your pet is going through a major change is his life. While the initial adjustment takes place, you should avoid any unnecessary stress or excitement. Inform visitors and family members (especially children) of the situation and make sure that they use caution around the pet and alert him to their presence before petting or grabbing him. Some behavior changes may take place until your pet is fully adjusted (depression, fear, aggression), but they should be only temporary.
- If you have other pets, it may be helpful to attach a bell to their collar. This allows your blind pet to keep track of the other pet, and therefore not be surprised or “ambushed” by their housemate.
- Always remember that your pet may be blind, but his life is not over. With your love, encouragement, and patience, he can lead a completely normal and happy life.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this information, please speak with the Hope Center Ophthalmology Department or your regular veterinarian. Each pet is an individual, and your pet’s reactions may differ from what is represented here.