How to Care for Your Blind Dog

Visually-impaired elder Shiba Inu mix

 David_Kaspar/Pixabay.com

Blindness is a health condition that can affect dogs of all ages. Some dogs are completely blind while others have partial loss of vision; some are born blind and others lose their sight over time. Caring for a blind dog requires owners who are patient and devoted to helping their pet live comfortably.

Before You Begin

Certain dog breeds are predisposed to diseases that affect eyesight, but any dog can develop vision problems. There are several medical conditions known to cause blindness in dogs. It's important to be aware that these conditions exist. Speak with your vet if you suspect vision loss in your dog.

  • Cataracts cause gradual vision loss as cloudiness develops in the lens of the eye. Cataracts can sometimes be surgically removed by a veterinary ophthalmologist.
  • Glaucoma causes a painful increase of pressure inside one or both eyes. Treatment can relieve some pressure and pain. Glaucoma may progress to a point where medication is not effective and the eye must be surgically removed.
  • SARDS or Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome causes acute blindness but is not painful. There is no cure or treatment available for SARDS.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a hereditary disease that causes a gradual loss of vision. PRA causes degeneration of the retina and is neither painful nor life-threatening. Unfortunately, there is no known cure or treatment available for PRA.
  • Retinal detachment may be caused by elevated blood pressure, tumor, trauma, or inflammation. Surgery may be an option in some situations, while in some cases the blindness is permanent.
  • Corneal ulcers, if left untreated, can do enough damage to cause vision loss or blindness in the affected eye.
  • Anophthalmia is a congenital disease in which dogs are born without eyes.
  • Microphthalmia is a congenital disease that causes a dog to be born with small, underdeveloped eyes that result in poor vision or no vision.
  • Brain disease can affect the optical nerve and impair the vision. Examples include a tumor in the brain or a seizure disorder.
  • Trauma that causes a puncture, abrasion, or swelling of the eye can lead to blindness, especially if left untreated. 
  • Macular degeneration is a common cause of gradual vision loss in aging dogs.

Dogs with gradual vision loss can usually learn to adapt over time, often without too much owner involvement. Many people don't even notice these dogs are going blind until they move around the furniture or bring their dogs to a new place. When a dog loses vision suddenly, the signs are more dramatic and the dog needs more support. These dogs bump into things and startle easily. They need more protection and guidance from their owners.

What You Need

Whether your dog has acute blindness or gradual onset of vision loss there are steps you can take to make sure the adjustment period is as smooth as possible. Make sure you can equip your home and care for your dog with the following:

  • Check your home and yard for hazards. Remove any sharp, breakable, and dangerous objects that your dog may encounter.
  • Keep your dog's water and food bowls in the same location. This area can act as a sort of "home base" to help your dog navigate the rest of the house.
  • Avoid moving furniture or placing new objects near walkways in your dog's environment.
  • Keep stairs and other dangerous areas blocked off with baby gates or other barricades to prevent falls. 
  • Place different textures of rugs and mats in front of steps, bowls, and other obstacles to alert your dog.
  • It can take a little while for your recently blind dog to get used to stairs again. You may need to put your dog on a leash and walk by its side on the stairs, guiding the dog with your voice.

How to Tell Your Dog Is Going Blind

In some cases, it is very obvious that a dog is blind or has poor vision. The dog bumps into walls and other objects. It has trouble seeing toys or food and does not make eye contact with you. Blind dogs and those with poor vision are often reluctant to jump up to or down from heights. They may seem uneasy in new places and act clingy to their owners. Blind dogs often feel more vulnerable and may show signs of fear or even aggression in order to protect themselves.

In other cases, especially when the onset of blindness is more gradual, dogs learn and adapt to the vision loss and show few signs of a problem. This is why it's important to bring your dog to the veterinarian regularly for routine wellness exams, to detect small changes in your dog's eyes. In some instances, treatment may be available to prevent your dog from completely losing its vision.

Training a Blind Dog

If your dog is born blind or you are training a newly blind dog, you'll want to follow these tips to help your dog out. You'll need to focus a lot on voice commands, since your dog will be relying on you to see. Proper training is essential for blind dogs to help with communication. Good-smelling training treats and clicker training can be especially helpful.

  • Crate train your dog and make the crate a safe, comfortable place. Keep your dog in the crate when alone for safety.
  • Take walks in familiar areas when possible. Stick to evenly-paved sidewalks and trails without rough terrain. 
  • Don't let your dog get too far ahead of you on walks. Teach loose-leash walking and try to keep your dog by your side using sounds.
  • Go slowly in unfamiliar areas, especially if there are steps up or down. The "wait" command can be a big help if your dog is approaching an obstacle. Also, consider teaching your dog words like "step up" and "step down."
  • Use verbal cues to guide your dog. Teach your dog as many basic commands as possible. 
  • Socialize your dog well. Even though it cannot see, it's just as important to expose the dog to many different environments, people, and other animals. This can enable your blind dog to feel less fearful and more relaxed in new situations.

Preventing Problems With Your Blind Dog

Even if your blind dog is well-trained, you'll want to let strangers know to approach your dog slowly and to greet your dog with speech. Make sure they let your dog get a good sniff and only touch if your dog is receptive. Consider teaching your dog a phrase like "say hi" to let it know there is a person approaching.

Consider special equipment to help your blind dog, like a "bumper" to protect its face and alert it to obstacles. You can build your own blind dog hoop harness or you can purchase something like Muffin's Halo Guide for Blind Dogs. Some owners choose to put a harness or collar on their dogs that say "blind dog."

Don't forget to play. Just because your dog is blind, it doesn't mean it can't enjoy fun games and toys. Fetch may not be a good option, but games like tug-of-war are great. Choose dog toys that make noise or dispense treats for extra fun. Finally, be patient, consistent, and keep it positive. There will be an adjustment period, but you can help your blind dog through it.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.