So, you think your dog might be going blind? Or maybe you’ve just come back from the vet after a tough diagnosis of glaucoma or progressive retinal atrophy? I know it can be difficult, but don’t worry. While it may not always be easy, caring for a blind dog often results in a particularly strong bond of love and, most importantly, trust.
A High Quality of Life
Although some vets may make the dreaded suggestion that it is kinder to put down your best friend, many specialists will be able to suggest ways to help you give them a great quality of life, especially if they are still young when they develop their condition. After all, eyesight isn’t as important for dogs as hearing and smell can be.
Here are some tips that will help you to keep your dog safe and happy so that you can have many fun years together. Just make sure you talk to a vet first as conditions, and therefore situations can vary. Don’t make any changes until you have a good idea of what is wrong, and what will genuinely help.
Behavior and Training
It is normal for your dog to struggle with the change of becoming blind and they may even suffer from depression at first. But, whether you have a young pup or an older dog, there is a lot you can do to train them into safer behavior and to help them enjoy their new lifestyle.
- Try not to change your lifestyle and routine too much. Going blind is likely to be a confusing and emotionally challenging experience for your dog. Make sure your tone of voice remains positive, calm and ‘cheery’, and keep their day-to-day life as normal as possible to help them to adjust.
- Teaching new cue words for your dog could be invaluable for keeping them safe. Train them to understand cues such as ‘careful’ ‘danger’ ‘steps’ and ‘slow down’. Remember that your tone of voice is also important as your dog will quickly learn that volume and a sharp tone means more immediate, critical dangers are present, while a less urgent tone may just mean to be cautious.
- You can use sound in other ways to keep them safe as well. For example, tap the floor of a step so your dog can hear how steep or deep they are. You should talk to them more often, so they are soothed by your presence and know your location. Similarly, talk before and as you pet or touch them so that they aren’t startled.
- Now that their sight is impaired or gone, be aware of what your dog is now using to navigate. Their sense of smell and hearing are obviously important, but you should also be aware of how useful their whiskers are for navigating. Protect them and their other means of navigation very carefully to ensure their independence and quality of life.
- Dogs’ other senses may well be more important than their sight, but that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Take fire, for instance. Many owners of blind dogs find that their pets are actually very careful and well behaved around fires because they can hear the crackle, feel the heat and smell the smoke. However, you should never underestimate how a startled dog might react. Events with fireworks, unexpected visitors, or any other sudden loud noises near a fireplace or campfire can be very dangerous.
- Similarly, you need to be particularly careful with children. Don’t introduce them to your blind dog without a full explanation of the situation and boundaries. Startled dogs are very likely to resort to their natural defence mechanisms – no matter how well they are trained – and I don’t have to tell you that this could be very dangerous or traumatising for a child.
- New dogs can also cause difficult experiences. Although it is unclear how or why it happens, other dogs can often tell when another dog is ‘different’. This can lead to negative altercations. However, socialization is very important, so make sure your pet continues to socialize with old friends, as well as carefully and cautiously introducing them to new friends.
- If your dog is showing signs of excessive anxiety due to their blindness. There are natural calming products you can use, such as Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) or Bach’s Rescue Remedy. This can help them get through the difficult early adjustment period.
Preparing Your House
A big change that you will need to make is to safety-proof your home and make it a friendly, happy and safe space for your pooch. If you’ve ever baby-proofed a home before, it might seem similar, but making a really comfortable home means going the extra mile.
- The obvious first issue to address is all the dangerous and sharp objects that your dog could bump into. A great tip is to get down on all fours with your dog and investigate what the world looks like from their perspective. You can show them safe routes, and to introduce new commands. For example, when you get to a sharp table corner, you might hit it and say ‘danger’ so that they can start to associate the corner and the collision with the cue.
- A great thing to do is to buy the corner covers intended to protect toddlers. It will take a while for your dog to learn how to navigate and you don’t want them to hurt themselves. Don’t assume they will be able to navigate around something just because it has been there for their whole life. A space can feel very different when you can’t see what is in it.
- There is a lot of responsibility owning a blind dog. Many people may even suggest that you shouldn’t move your furniture or to a new house, but if you are willing to put in the time and effort to teach your dog their new surroundings, it is possible. It is still best if you don’t move all your furniture at once. Make it as gradual as possible and take the time to repeatedly show them the new safe routes for them to travel.
- If you have other pets in the home, buy bells and put them on their collars. You might even want to put a small bell on a bracelet for yourself. This will help your dog from getting startled when something touches them or brushes against them, which could result in defences such as nipping.
- Use carpets to map out ‘safe’ textures and pathways. You can also use welcome mats to denote boundary changes, such as ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, and ‘top of the stairs’ and ‘bottom of the stairs’. This will tell them when to be cautious about their next step and will help them to navigate.
- You can also use textures in your garden to denote dangers. For example, put bark chips around your trees and the shed. This will give your dog warning that they could bump into something.
- Your dog will also orientate themselves using sound. You can invest in a pet fountain that will allow them to hear where their water is. You don’t want them to get lost and thirsty when you aren’t home.
- If certain rooms are designated as ‘too dangerous’, such as the kitchen or the basement, you should buy dog gates to block off the area. This is also very useful for stairs, but remember to make sure they can’t slip through, or get stuck, in the gate.
- If you are training your dog to handle the stairs on their own, you can buy special adhesive strips to put on the edges if they are slippery. These are deliberately ‘non-slip’ to help your dog get a grip on the floor and for them to feel when the steps end.
- You can also use scents to help your best friend to navigate. This involves putting nice smells in safe places, such a vanilla, and bad, strong smells in dangerous places, such as citrus. However, you must be aware of how sensitive dogs’ noses are. Too much is likely to accidentally disorientate your dog instead, as often your dog is already very familiar with the subtle differences between your carpet, your sofa and other furnishings. They may already use these smells for navigation and masking them will only cause confusion.
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Playing and Having Fun
Now that you have made your home a safe place and are teaching your dog how to keep themselves safe, it is time to make sure they are having a fantastic time. The living isn’t just about staying alive, it is about having fun too. So here are some great ideas and toys for playing with your dog based on sound and smell so you can make them just as happy as any other dog can be.
- Big open spaces are great for stress-free exercise and fun. It will allow your dog to run at full speed without any fear of crashing into anything. This can be more difficult to find than you think, however, as parks will often have plenty of trees and people. Sandy beaches out of season can be great. However, keep in mind that loud waves and wind can affect hearing, which is essential for blind dogs, so choose your days carefully.
- You can buy scented tennis balls so that you can continue to play catch. Your dog will use their amazing sense of smell to follow and sniff out the ball and bring it back to you.
- Similarly, you can buy balls with little bells inside if you think they will have more fun chasing sound instead of smell. Hopefully, playing like this will also help them to strengthen these senses to compensate for their lack of sight.
- You can also buy balls that dispense treats when they play with them. These treat balls can reward them for being more adventurous and help them to recover from the emotional anguish that can come with losing their eyesight.
- Toys are not just for playing with you. Plenty of toys are designed for your dog to play alone. Squeaky toys are great for this, as your dog can nip, bat, and gnaw along with the pleasure of hearing the noise. You can also contribute to the play by squeaking it for them to follow.
- Fun activities outside can also be made safer and more fun with some safety features. For example, eye shields will mean you can go on fantastically fun hikes as they will defend your pet’s eyes from various flora and fauna that they wouldn’t otherwise know to avoid.
- It might also be worthwhile to invest in a harness instead of a simple collar when exercising your dog. The harness has more control and puts less stress on your dog’s eyes and neck. This makes it particularly important for glaucoma.
- Often, other dog lovers come over to play with your dog, and why wouldn’t they? After all, your dog is just the cutest! But for blind dogs who aren’t prepared, this can be shocking and traumatic. It might be a good idea to buy an ‘I’m blind’ vest or other clothing so that people know to proceed with caution. This doesn’t mean no one can touch your dog. But advise them to talk by saying ‘who’s a good girl?’, ‘hi sweetie’ and other cheery positive phrases. You might also want to make sure they know that you are also still present by holding onto their collar and joining in the play.
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Ultimately, keeping your blind dog safe and happy is an immensely rewarding job. There will be difficult times, such as a bad reaction to an unexpected sound, and a few bumps and scrapes along the way. But with the right tools and frame of mind, you’ll have the most precious friend for life.