Caroline Levin, who managed a veterinary clinic in Portland, Oregon, witnessed heartbreaking moments in the practice, reported the Humane Society of the US, the country’s most effective animal protection organization. A veterinarian told an owner, “I’m sorry, your dog is blind. There is nothing we can do.” Levin said that the clients would leave the clinic in tears regardless if it’s an elderly lady or a burly man. She added, “They had no idea how life was going to work with a blind dog.” It’s understandable to worry about how their furry companion will cope with blindness, but many of them adapt well and continue to live happily. For owners who want to take care of a blind pet need or need help in caring for one, there are feasible ways of doing so.
Assessing the Advice of Veterinary Ophthalmologists Given to Pets With Irreversible Blindness (June 2020)
Andre Tavares Somma and colleagues of journal portal Research Gate found that 98.15% of veterinarians reported that they diagnosed patients with irreversible blindness. 55.55% said the cases of irreversible blindness were between 0.1% and 5% of the total number of patients. 20.37% said that irreversible blindness cases were between six to 10% while 12.96% reported that cases were between 11 to 20%.
The most common causes of irreversible blindness among the respondents’ patients were glaucoma (63.56%), progressive retinal atrophy (17.80%), retinal detachment (6.78%), and sudden acquired retinal degeneration (5.08%). Other causes included cataract (1.69%), optic neuritis (1.69%), chronic corneal disease (0.85%), and central blindness (0.85%). 99.07% answered the question regarding recommendations for adapting to blindness. The most common recommendation was “to avoid changes in the domestic environment” (18.45%), “use of auditory stimulation” (14.09%), and “avoid dangerous areas” (12.75%).
99.07% answered the questions about the respondents’ opinions of owners’ major concerns. The most prevalent concern was the impact of blindness in quality of life (39.31%), depression and anxiety (20%), and adaptation to being blind (11.72%). Question 10 was about assessing the specific recommendation for pets with PRA (progressive retinal atrophy). 90.74% gave different recommendations and divided into 16 subcategories. 22.45% said they did not provide any specific recommendation for cases of PRA, with the most common suggestions being keeping a source of light near the animal (18.36%), establishing a training routine (10.20%), and prescribing nutritional supplementation (8.36%).
When asked if the veterinarians gave some source of information (book, paper, or website) for further instructions to the owners, 31.55% did not usually recommend any source of additional information. 28.81% mentioned the book “Living With Blind Dogs” while 5.08% recommended “Blind Devotion.” 7.62% mentioned diverse websites. 1.69% said they recommended owners to contact with other owners of blind pets, 0.84% provided a leaflet for owners of blind pets, and 0.84% informed the owners how to manage a blind pet.
How to Take Care of A Blind Pet
1. Create A Safe, Familiar Space
An animal who lost or is losing its vision may feel anxious and vulnerable. Hence, it is important to establish a consistent routine and provide a safe, comfortable home environment. Block off the stairs or swimming pools, cover a furniture’s sharp corners, and remove branches and other hazards in your yard. Give your pet time to navigate and master its environment. Soon, it will learn how to safely go and up down the stairs and other challenges. However, it is best to be vigilant since a bad experience can lead to injury, causing your pet to lose its confidence.
2. Have Sound, Scent, and Touch Cues
Use your pet’s other senses! Levin suggested using scent markers such as a lightly-applied vanilla essential oil by the door leading to the outdoors and lavender oil near pet beds. You can also install wind chimes by the exterior doors to help your pet steer toward thresholds. A metronome in high risk areas can warn your pet of sharp corners or place it could get stuck.
Setting up tactile markers like textured mats under your pet’s food and water bowls and in front of litter boxes. Carpet runners can help your pet maneuver its way around the house and throw rugs in front of furniture can make your pet take note of the position of the chairs and couch. Debbie Bauer, author of “Through a Dark Silence: Loving and Living With Your Blind and Deaf Do,” emphasized the importance of stimulating your pet’s senses. She said, “A lot of dogs who go blind later, they tend to just sit in one place. They don’t have motivation to move around.”
3. Introduce the Unknown (Slowly)
Introducing your blind pet with another animal should be done gradually. You can leverage your pet’s sense of hearing to help it compensate for its blindness. For example, Allison Bundock said her dog and older cat behaved appropriately when interacting with her blind cat, Stevie. However, Darla— the younger, energetic feline— was “more intense.” Hence, Bundock decided to place a bell on Darla to warn Stevie that the cat was nearby.
Consider talking to your pet before touching them, as blind animals are easily startled, Bauer suggested. If its hearing is impaired, try to step a bit heavier or tug at its bed gently before touching your pet. Bauer added, “You can also put a little piece of food in front of their nose and let them wake up that way.” You can take your visually-impaired pet to a walk around the neighborhood to introduce it to unfamiliar smells, helping it become more confident.
4. Purchase and Try New Toys
What if your pet lost interest in playing with its old toys or struggles to play the games it used to enjoy? It’s time to take advantage of their sense of smell! For instance, you can play scent-based games with your dog, though it may take practice and training, said PDSA, the UK’s leading vet charity. You can purchase toys that allow you to store treats to help your dog or cat sniff them out. If your dog loves to play with balls, consider finding a rubber ball with a bell inside to help it keep track of its toy.
Taking care of a visually-impaired pet can be challenging for animals and owners alike. Owners should remove potential hazards like sharp corners or branches to prevent injury. Pet parents can take their pets to explore the great outdoors to introduce it to new smells, which can be a big confidence booster to the animal.