We Can't Always See What's Coming

Posted by Chris Chandler on

We've just found out that Sugarplum, our 5 1/2 year old cattle dog mix, is going blind. Turns out she has an inherited condition called Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). The retina degenerates leading to blindness. There is no treatment or cure. Unfortunately, the younger the disease develops, the faster vision deteriorates. So that makes us sad. : ( You can read more about this condition and some warning signs here:


BUT . . . I've been happy :) to learn that dogs adapt well to lack of vision. They already rely more on their noses and ears than their eyes. I've never thought about the in's and out's of living with a blind dog before, especially a young one.

Here's an article from Care.com (https://www.care.com/c/stories/6299/17-tips-for-living-with-a-blind-dog/) with 18 tips for caring for a blind dog.

"On the list of things that are important to dogs, you might find family, treats and toys — in no particular order. Their vision, or rather the loss of it, will likely be in the “no big deal” category.

“It’s more traumatic to us as an owner and as a pet parent than it is to the animal,” says Dr. Tammy Miller Michau, a board-certified ophthalmologist with BluePearl Veterinary Partners. “They care about things such as, are they with you? Are they being fed? Are they in a safe, warm environment? If they are, they can live very happy lives, even with a loss of vision.”

Signs your dog may be losing vision

If your dog’s vision is on the decline, you may notice:

  • Increased clumsiness

  • Difficulty finding toys

  • Your dog gets startled easily

  • Cloudiness and/or red blood vessels in the eyes

  • Noticeable eye pain

  • Lower energy levels

If you see these signs, Dr. Miller suggests asking your vet to recommend a veterinary ophthalmologist for a consultation. Vision loss due to conditions like cataracts or glaucoma can sometimes be repaired or slowed through medical treatment or surgery, according to Dr. Miller.

If your older dog doesn’t romp around as much as they used to, it might actually be because they don’t see as well as they used to, she says.

“The fact is, a lot of times it can be related to their vision,” says Dr. Miller. “And if you can restore their vision or improve their vision, they act like they’re younger again.”

If you have a definitive diagnosis of vision loss from a vet that can’t be fixed, don’t worry, because your dog wouldn’t want you to. Given some time and assistance, your dog will learn to compensate by using other senses like hearing, smell and touch — all of which are already very keen in our canine friends.

Here are 18 tips for helping your blind buddy navigate life at home and outdoors.

1. Give your dog a safe zone.

It’s important to establish an area that’s cozy and safe — like a retreat for your blind pet.

“Have a comfortable, safe spot for your pet to be. A large soft-padded bed is helpful to keep them comfortable," suggests Dr. Amber Andersen, a veterinarian and the medical director and owner of Redondo Veterinary Medical Center in Redondo Beach, California.

2. Talk to your dog frequently.

Your dog is already your most trusted confidant, so having regular conversations with your blind pooch will be even more important. The sound of your voice can help him figure out where he is. Use your voice to get his attention before touching him so you don't scare or startle him.

3. Keep a consistent routine.

”Having a daily routine is very helpful," suggests Sarah Conner of Atlanta, Georgia, who adopted her dog, Murphy, when he was already blind. "I took him to the same parks and on the same walking routes. He loved going to parks."

4. Let others know your dog is blind.

Get a shirt, bandana or vest for your dog that reads "I'm blind" to wear on walks. Tell people about your dog's condition so they approach slowly and let the dog sniff them first. Also, get a tag for your dog's collar that says "I'm blind" in case it ever gets lost.

5. Create location cues.

If your foyer has a distinct rug, it could be a cue your blind dog will remember.

”I used a carpet runner on well-traveled parts of the home. Farfel could feel the floor and use it to correct his course if he got lost," explains Sarah Lammie of Chicago, Illinois, whose dog lost his vision to glaucoma.

6. Dog-proof your home.

Get down on all fours and crawl around your home looking for hazards, such as things they could dangerously bump into or fall from. Put corner protectors on sharp furniture and baby gates at the tops of stairs until your dog can safely maneuver staircases.

7. Always keep food and water in the same place.

Once your dog has learned where his food is, it will be easier for him to return to it — and it will become another location cue.

"We always kept his food and water bowls in the same spot," Conner says.  

8. Use scents during activities.

A dog is a dog, so he can still fetch! Therefore, you can and should engage in active play with him or her. Rub a dog treat or put a small drop of essential oil on a dog toy before throwing it to help your pooch find it and choose an open, safe area for him to play in.

9. Walk your blind dog through the house.

You can help your dog create a house roadmap.

“Leashing the dog and walking him around will help him familiarize and navigate through the house," Andersen says.

10. Try a new water dish.

A fountain-style dog bowl that constantly circulates water is practical for a blind dog because it makes noise. The sound of running water will help your dog more easily find it.

11. Leave the television on.

Even pets who haven’t lost their sight enjoy ambient noise. Keeping a TV or radio on while you're gone not only orients your dog to different rooms of the house, it also reduces feelings of loneliness.

12. Choose toys that make noise.

Toys that give treats, squeak, talk or make noise are especially rewarding for blind dogs.

"Our dog loved Kongs and could still work the food out of them; he even taught another puppy how to do it when he was blind," says Lammie.

13. Create sounds around your house.

Attach small bells to your shoes or to other pets’ collars to help your dog hear you moving about the house. This is helpful until he is more familiar with listening to the sounds of footsteps and vibrations from movement.

14. Don't change the floor plan.

Once you have arranged the furniture in a room in a way that’s safe for your dog and allows for ease of movement, try not to change it again.

"Keeping everything in place will help prevent disorientation and injury," Andersen says.

15. Use textured rugs in your house.

Place rugs or floor mats of different textures near the outside doors and at the top and bottom of the steps. This will help your dog learn these locations.

16. Keep the floor clear of objects.

Tidiness must now be your strong suit. Toys, shoes, clothes or other objects on the floor quickly become tripping hazards for a blind dog, so keep the areas he frequents most free of clutter.

17. Try a blind dog “halo.”

There are several companies that manufacture circular halos that are worn on a harness or vest, surrounding the blind dog’s head and face. It works by bumping into furniture or other obstructions before your dog does. Dr. Miller says these can be reassuring for blind dogs.  

18. Introduce new commands to increase safety.

Teach your dog important words like "step up," "step down," "left," "right," "danger" or "stop" to help him navigate the inside and outside world in the safest way possible.

Above all, don't forget to treat your pooch just like you would any other beloved pet, because that's what he is first and foremost."

We're in the process of setting up house so Sugarplum will have consistent safe spaces, putting rugs at the tops and bottoms of stairs so she'll have tactile cues about her location, and starting to teach her verbal commands for things that will help her once her sight is gone. She's a spicy, sparky dog full of enthusiasm. I know those qualities will be in her favor as she adapts over time and she'll show us the way to adjust with joy and grace.


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