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How to Care for a Blind Dog

Whether you've adopted a blind dog or your longtime four-legged friend is losing their vision, you want the best for your vision-impaired pup. Here, our Renton veterinary ophthalmologists offer advice on how you can support and care for your blind dog.

Sadly, many dogs lose their vision due to illness, or developing diseases such as glaucoma and diabetes as they age. Over time, most dogs adapt by relying on their sensitive noses to sniff things out or using their ears to listen for certain sounds or cues, such as the footfalls of their favorite people arriving home. 

While your dog can't verbally tell you when something is wrong, you may notice changes in their behavior that reveal they are losing their sight. 

How can I tell if my dog is starting to go blind?

While symptoms of vision loss or blindness vary from animal to animal, you'll typically be able to tell if something is wrong if you notice your dog start acting in a way they haven't in the past. 

Here are some common signs of vision loss in dogs:

  • Bumping into objects
  • Eyes are puffy, swollen, or red
  • Signs of hesitation or anxiety in new places
  • Eyes have. a cloudy appearance 
  • Obvious eye irritation or pawing at the face 
  • Your dog seems dazed, confused, or easily startled 
  • Your dog is suddenly unwilling to go up or down stairs or jump onto furniture, which they normally did previously 

Common Causes of Blindness in Dogs 

Dogs can develop visual impairment or blindness due to injury, disease, aging, or hereditary conditions. In fact, blindness can sometimes result from the natural aging process. However, it's important for pets parents to understand that blindness is sometimes not the primary issue, but rather an indication of an underlying condition, such as liver or kidney disorders, heart disease, or systemic diseases. 

Some of the most common causes of blindness in dogs include:

  • Cataracts - When a dog develops cataracts the lens of the eye becomes thick and opaque, resulting in a whitish/gray area in the center of the eye which stops light from fully reaching the retina. When it comes to cataracts, early detection is key to preventing blindness. If detected early the dog's vision may be saved through surgical intervention.
  • Diabetes - Diabetes is becoming increasingly common in dogs. Those at increased risk of becoming diabetic include older, large breed dogs, breeding females, dogs with poor nutrition, and those suffering from obesity. Cataracts will develop in more than 75% of dogs with diabetes which can result in full or partial blindness.
  • Glaucoma - Glaucoma is a painful condition in dogs which is can be treated. Spotting this condition early is essential for good treatment outcomes. If your dog has yellow or green discharge from their eyes, dilated pupils, bloodshot eyes, or is slow to react to bright light, contact your vet as soon as possible to help preserve your dog's vision.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy - Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), while painless, causes a deterioration of the retina, which leads to blindness in both eyes. It is inherited and develops at a slower rate, which allows your dog time to adjust to losing their sight. Unfortunately there is no treatment for this condition.
  • Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome - Like PRA, Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (SARDS) causes a deterioration of the retina, which leads to blindness in both eyes. This condition develops much more quickly than PRA and may result in total blindness within days or weeks. SARDS can be very hard on pets since there is little time for them to adjust to the loss of vision.

Diagnosing Vision Loss & Blindness in Dogs

Conditions that cause vision loss and blindness in dogs do not typically go away on their own. Early intervention and management are critical to helping your dog cope with their loss of vision or ensuring they get the veterinary care they need. A primary health condition may be contributing to this symptom. 

In some cases, conditions that may lead to blindness can also cause other health issues, or your dog's blindness may point to a larger medical issue. Your veterinarian will likely first perform a complete physical exam and diagnostic testing to rule out underlying diseases such as diabetes and Cushing's' disease. 

You may then be referred to our board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists at Northwest Animal Eye Specialists for diagnosis and treatment. Depending on your dog's circumstances and the symptoms of their eye condition, we may perform a variety of diagnostic tests to diagnose any ocular issues. 

We can also provide practical advice and support as you and your dog adapt at home.

Caring for a Blind Dog

When it comes to supporting a blind dog, offering care and support may come in many forms. Whether you're introducing your newly adopted blind dog to your home or your senior dog is adjusting to losing his vision, there are some things you can do at home to help your pup navigate their surroundings, practice safe habits, communicate with their people, and stay mentally stimulated. 

Safety Rules 

Keeping your blind dog safe while still giving them the opportunity to engage in physical activity and maintain their independence may require a few adjustments. Here are some things you can do to create safe surroundings for your blind dog:

Remove Hazards 

Inspect their environment thoroughly for any potential hazards, such as sharp objects, clutter, or loose cords that could cause them to trip and injure themselves. Eliminate these or put them away 

Use Non-Slip Flooring 

Laying non-slip mats or rugs along your dog's usual paths through your home can provide stability and prevent accidents on slippery floors. Certain surfaces may be more suitable for visually impaired dogs. 

Minimize Tripping Hazards 

Keep walkways clear and create a designated play area to minimize the risk of accidents caused by dog toys or obstacles that your blind dog may not be able to sense are in their way. 

Communication Methods 

Communicating with a blind dog may be a unique challenge. However, it's possible, and can even be emotionally fulfilling with some patience and the use of proper techniques. Here are some strategies to help you effectively communicate with your blind dog:

Rely on Familiar Verbal Commands

 Use simple verbal cues and commands that your pet recognizes immediately. These commands should be clear and consistent. For example, say, "sit" when you want them to sit down and "stay" when you want them to remain where they are. 

Use Tactile Signals 

You might also consider using touch as a means of communication. Gently stroke or tap your dog to capture their attention. Since consistency is key, you'll want to establish specific touch patterns for different commands. 

Provide Ongoing Training 

Dedicate time to ongoing training and practice. While it may take your dog some time to learn and adapt to your communication methods, patience and persistence can pay off. 

Work With a Dog Trainer 

Consider working with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist experienced in training blind dogs. They can offer valuable guidance and tailor training techniques to your dog's specific needs. 

Around the House

Here are some things you can do around your home to give your dog a sense of security as they navigate life with blindness:

Follow a Predictable Schedule 

Aging pets often find comfort in established routines. By sticking to a regular time for walks, feeding, and play sessions, you can provide a sense of predictability, which can help to reassure your pet. 

Allow Time for Transitions 

Practice patience when introducing your dog to a new place or experience. Allow them time to explore and adjust at their own pace, and avoid overwhelming them with too many changes at once. 

Reinforce Positive Experience 

When your dog successfully navigates a new environment or responds to cures, shower them with praise, treats, and affection. Positive reinforcement encourages them to adapt more easily and trust you. 

Engage their Sense of Smell 

You can rely on their sensitive nose if your dog's vision is compromised. Familiar scents can help them identify specific areas of the home or their favorite spot in the yard. 

Monitoring Your Blind Dog's Eye Health

If your dog is blind due to cataracts, it's important to care for their eye health vigilantly. Watch for any changes in your pup's eyes, such as an increase in eye size, pawing at the eyes, or reddening of the white area. These signs can point to glaucoma (high pressure) or uveitis (inflammation), which cause pain. 

If you notice any concerning changes, consult our veterinary ophthalmologists as soon as possible. They may recommend coming in for an exam to determine whether treatment or management are required. 

Note: Northwest Animal Eye Specialists specializes in treating eye conditions and illnesses. The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical or behavioral advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.

Do you suspect your dog may be experiencing vision loss or blindness? Contact our Renton vets to book a consultation with a veterinary ophthalmologist.

New Patients Welcome By Referral

Northwest Animal Eye Specialists is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the eye health of animals. Talk to your vet today about getting a referral to our clinics serving patients from Renton, Kirkland, and the surrounding areas.

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