How To Care For a Blind Dog

Dogs can have physical disabilities just like us humans, and one condition that you could find yourself dealing with is blindness. Dogs tend to experience a reduction in eyesight as they grow older, some becoming completely blind, but there are also dogs that lose their eyesight due to illness, or that are born unable to see.

This could scary at first, especially when receiving the diagnose as it comes with many adjustments and changes, but a blind dog is highly likely to live a life just as rich and fulfilling as a dog that has full use of its eyes. To set your blind pup up for success, there are a few things you might need to know to get off on the right track.

A Big Responsibility

Having a dog that is unable to see comes with a big responsibility – even bigger than what you may be used to with the previous dog owning experiences. A blind dog needs an environment where they can thrive and live a normal life, which is something they can only have if you are willing to make a few changes in your daily routine.

Many dog owners are heartbroken when finding out their dog is blind, and it is common to think that it is the end, when in reality – it does not have to be. Blindness is a much bigger issue to humans than it is to dogs, and most can learn to manage.

Yes, dogs are good at adapting to new circumstances, regardless of whether they were born blind, or if blindness came later, but as an owner it is crucial to understand the responsibility you are signing up for. Having a blind dog means adapting your home to the best of your abilities, keeping it clean to avoid having the dog stumble over your left-out shoes or backpack, and coming up with clever ways to simplify walks, feeding time and leisure activities.

When the dog is already living with you by the time it goes blind, it simply becomes a question of adjusting, but if you are considering adopting a dog with reduced eyesight, you should stop and consider if you are truly up for the challenge. It is likely to be worth the extra effort, but not everyone was made to care for a blind dog.

Dogs Born Blind

For the dogs that are born blind, they simply don’t know anything other than what it is like to not see. This has its benefits, but also its downsides, as they cannot rely on memory, and you will instead have to teach everything without the support of visual cues.

This requires creativity, patience and some rewiring of your dog training brain, but the positive side of it is that your pooch won’t know what he is missing, due to having never experienced it.

With dogs that are born blind, you usually have the choice of whether to welcome the dog into your home or to let it move in with someone else who has the experience, time and patience that a blind pooch requires. You get to actively decide if the situation would be right for you, and if you really are the kind of person your physically challenged dog needs.

Progressive Blindness

Dog Eye Check Up

If you have a dog that is slowly going blind due to eye disease (often associated with old age), you don’t get the same choice as to whether you can care for a blind pooch, and instead, you end up having to simply deal with the situation and make the best of it.

A dog that is gradually losing its eyesight gets the opportunity to adjust to an increased sight reduction and may not be as affected by its new handicap as you think! Lose if eyesight is often age-related, and these are some of the symptoms that indicate your dog might be going blind:

+ The dog suddenly struggles to find toys and chews.
+ Physical change to the eye, such as cloudiness.
+ A change in attitude and an evident energy level reduction.
+ Pain and discomfort in the eye area.
+ The dog appears to be jumpy and scare easily.
+ Clumsiness and lack of coordination.

All dogs are different, and if the loss of vision happens slowly, there is a possibility that you might not notice any symptoms at all until the dog is almost completely blind, and it is important to be vigilant and to pay attention.

Importance of Consulting a Veterinarian

Veterinarian checking up a dog

Whenever there is doubt, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your vet, to try and figure out what is going on. The thing with dogs is that they are unable to talk and tell us when something isn’t quite right, and it becomes our responsibility as their owners to pay attention to any small changes in attitude, energy level, physical appearance or general health.

The smartest thing to do is to book regular vet appointments for our dogs, and especially as they grow older, as it could help catch any eyesight issues at an early stage.

Adapting the Home Environment

Before getting a dog – any dog – you should always take some time to puppy proof your home, to make sure your new pooch can’t get out through any of the doors and windows, that they can’t get into the trash or chew up a dangerous cable, but when you have a blind dog at home you instead have to prepare yourself (and your dog) for a whole different set of challenges!

The stairs of your home may need to be blocked off with baby gates, to ensure the dog’s safety, and the same applies if you have a swimming pool or any other area that could present an outright danger for a visually impaired canine.

You might also want to proof the house in a similar way that you would when babyproofing your home, by covering up sharp table corners, removing sharp objects or any other inconvenient item found at the dog’s level. You could also consider reducing the space where the dog is allowed in the beginning, again using baby gates, to give your four-legged friend a chance to get familiar with one area at a time.

Sound Cues

Gold Bell on a person's palm

Just because your dog is blind it doesn’t mean he can’t rely on other senses, so help your pooch out by experimenting with sound cues. You could make it a habit to always have the radio on, or to let the TV or another electronic device be switched on during the days, to help give your dog a sense of location.

They can learn where the sound is coming from and adjust to navigating around it. Remember that whatever object you choose to transmit the sound must be continuously kept in the same place, or you will end up confusing your furry friend.

You can also use bells and other small sound devices to help your fur buddy figure out where the other household pets are, and you might want to have wear one yourself too and have one attached to your children’s clothing. Dogs have excellent hearing, so you could choose a bell or a device that makes a low enough sound not to become annoying for the human family members.

Some toys for blind dogs have bells built-in, as well as other sensory aids such as smells and different textures.

Location Cues

Something often overlooked is the benefits of using different materials for the floors your dog will be walking on. Add a placemat under your pup’s food- and water bowl, use a fussy ‘Welcome’ mat to place by the front door and perhaps a big rug for the living room floor, to allow your dog to feel where he is, even if he can’t see it.

The same method can be used in the backyard, where you can use mulch or wood chips in some areas of the patio, and grass in others. It may seem irrelevant to someone who can see, but for a blind dog, it could contribute to a more comfortable living situation.

Scent Cues

Blind Dog Sniffing

Purchase a dog perfume, or use essential oils, to spray on toys before you throw them for your dog to fetch, as this will make it easier for a visually impaired dog to find them even when they are far away.

When a dog loses one sense – like sight – the other senses tend to become stronger and adding some extra scent to items (just make sure you use different scents for different items) could be what guides your pooch through the house and straight to his favorite toys.

Useful Commands to Teach

All dogs can benefit from learning commands, but for a blind dog, it could be what stops it from walking into a wall. Take some time to teach a command for “watch out” or “stop,” that you can use whenever your fur buddy is getting a little too close to an object. You should always use positive reinforcement methods when training your dog, as this is what will make training fun for the two of you, and help you reach long-lasting results fast and efficiently.

The easiest way to teach a command is by looking for a video tutorial on the internet, or by purchasing a reliable dog training book, but you could also opt for contacting a professional trainer if you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of teaching your dog yourself.

Clicker Training

Dog Clicker Training

A clicker is a small device that helps your dog understand what behavior you are rewarded by producing a loud clicking sound, and blind dogs seem to respond very well to this training method. Use clicker training when teaching essential commands to your visually impaired fur friends and see for yourself how much easier it gets to have fun together and for your dog to learn something new.

Avoid Changes

One thing you should avoid as much as you possibly can is to change things around inside the house. Don’t move furniture or the dog’s bowls and/or bed unless absolutely necessary, as this will become extremely confusing to a dog that struggles with its eyesight.

The best thing you can do for your blind fur friend is to simply keep things as they are, both furniture and smaller items, and to not leave things lying around the house that your dog could walk into or trip on.

Taking a Blind Dog for a Walk

Man and Black Dog walking

Blindness is no excuse not to exercise a dog, and a pup with visual impairment should be walked just as much as any other dog, provided he or she is healthy enough. You can wear bells on your clothes to give the dog an idea of where you are and to where you want to go, and it is recommended that you use your voice and that you talk as much as possible to your dog, so that he (or she) can feel safe knowing you are right there by their side.

Preventing Negative Reactions

When dogs go blind, it could take them some time to adjust, but dogs that are born blind could also present the occasional undesirable behavior. A startled dog may bite or react negatively, which is understandable considering they are animals, and that is something they would do in the wild.

If your dog is blind, you will want to avoid sneaking up on it or petting it while it sleeps, as this could scare your four-legged buddy into jumping up and potentially biting. Always announce it loudly when you approach and avoid doing anything that could catch the dog off guard.

Useful Accessories, Products & Gear

There are a few useful accessories you could get for your blind dog, that could help your pup live a close-to-normal life. Multiple companies are now making a type of dog halo, where a plastic protector surrounds the dog’s front half like a halo – to stop them from hurting themselves if walking into something.

The flexible halo will touch the object or the wall first, long before your pup’s sensitive snout gets there, and it will alert the pup to there being something up ahead.

You could also replace your dog’s regular water bottle with a water fountain; not only will the pup have constant access to freshwater, but it will also be easier for him (or her) to locate the water thanks to the sound of it running. Sure, having a blind dog comes with extra challenges, but it can also be incredibly rewarding.

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