Pet Talk: Pets with disabilities: Blindness in Dogs

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Some dogs are born blind while others develop blindness over time from age and disease. No matter the situation, blind dogs are just as loveable and playful as dogs with excellent eyesight. Dr. Lucien Vallone, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, cleared up some confusion about caring for blind dogs.

“Blind dogs are certainly adoptable,” Vallone said. “In fact, most blind dogs’ owners actually report that their dog’s quality of life is excellent. In addition, many owners find that blind dogs become more attached to either the owner or other pets within the household, which is often viewed positively. After adapting to a new environment, which can take several months, most blind dogs lead lives that are almost identical to sighted dogs.”

If you are considering adopting a blind dog or are currently caring for a dog whose eyesight is deteriorating, it is important to realize the dog’s blindness may upset you more than the dog itself. Considering the five senses in dogs, eyesight comes third in importance after hearing and smell. Furthermore, dogs are sensitive to their owners’ emotional state. Interacting with your dog in a positive manner, such as talking to them in a cheery voice, taking them for walks, and encouraging playtime, can help them adapt to their blindness.

Although there are many more similarities than differences between sightless and sighted canines, owning a blind dog does take some special consideration. “Providing consistency is the most important part of owning a blind dog,” Vallone said. “Dogs are incredible creatures of habit and will quickly become attuned to the layout of the house. Many sightless dogs will easily navigate stairs or even jump up on the couch or bed without trouble. Thus, rearranging furniture can certainly make life challenging for visually impaired pets.”

Vallone also offered advice on how to keep blind dogs safe in their environment. “Many owners find that tactile cues are helpful for sightless dogs to anticipate potential dangers, such as a flight of stairs,” he said. “Consider placing a foot mat below and above stairways to warn your dog of the stairs. Additionally, fence off any steep areas or bodies of water around the property and ensure that blind dogs are enclosed within a fenced yard. These are methods that can drastically improve a blind pet’s safety and quality of life.”

Furthermore, it is important to consider blind dogs’ medical needs. Some dogs may be born blind while others lose eyesight with age or as a result of disease. Vallone explained some signs of vision problems in dogs.

“Disorientation and bumping into objects in the house, increased sleeping, and occasionally squinting can accompany blindness,” he said. “Owners should be aware that squinting, changes in eye color, and eye discharge can all be signs of severe eye disease that need prompt medical attention. Also, many dogs are affected by visual deficits only in day or night light settings. These are all important behavioral clues that will help a veterinarian distinguish what type of vision problem a dog is having.”

For dogs with degenerative blindness, specific eye diseases may be treatable. If you notice signs of vision loss in your dog, it is important to communicate with your veterinarian to ensure the best treatment possible.

“A recently blind dog should always be evaluated by a veterinarian or veterinary ophthalmologist,” Vallone said. “Some causes of blindness are correctable, like cataracts, and some causes of blindness can cause severe discomfort, like glaucoma. A veterinarian will be able to distinguish these causes and recommend the appropriate therapy or referral.”

If you are considering adopting a blind dog or are currently caring for a dog with degenerative blindness, be sure to prepare your home for the dog’s safety. Keep in mind that although blind dogs may require a little extra care, they make excellent companions and live nearly normal lives.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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