Coping with Blindness in Pets
Advice from Vet Charity PDSA
A pet losing their sight might seem life-changing, both for them and their owners, yet with some adaptation blind pets can often continue to lead normal, happy lives.
PDSA vet Olivia Anderson-Nathan said: “Some diseases cause sudden loss of all sight, whereas with others it’s a gradual deterioration. Conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma can lead to pets losing their sight, but these illnesses usually affect older pets. For young dogs, sight-loss might be the result of an injury. Luckily, our pets have an extremely well-developed sense of smell which they use to help compensate for blindness.”
Owners concerned about their pet’s vision should speak to their vet, as some diseases such as glaucoma are also painful, so need to be treated as soon as possible. Some eye conditions are a sign of other diseases, like cataracts and diabetes. The progression of certain conditions could also be slowed with treatment, so early diagnosis is important.
Olivia added: “Your vet will check your pet’s eyes and general health to see whether there is an underlying condition causing vision loss. If a medical condition is diagnosed, they will discuss treatment options and provide guidance and support.”
How pets react to sight-loss varies depending on several factors. If they learn new skills quickly, then they often adjust more easily to reduced or no vision. Older pets may already have a reduced sense of hearing or smell and so may find it harder to adapt, though because their loss of sight is usually more gradual they often learn to compensate well.
Olivia added: “If slight-loss is gradual, pets can find it easier to adjust than if there is a sudden loss. Confident pets may also adapt better than more anxious ones, but the amount of support an owner provides is also a big factor in helping pets adjust to sight loss.”
There are several steps owners can take to care for a pet suffering from impaired vision.
To help them learn their environment and surroundings, keep furniture in the same place and never leave anything at pet level around that they could trip over or walk into. Keeping their bed, food and water bowls in the same place will also help. Access to hazards such as fireplaces, balconies and open staircases should be blocked off to blind pets. When taking them out, tread well-known routes until they get used to things, and don’t let them off-lead unless they’re in a secure area.
Olivia said: “Once they‘ve adapted to the loss of vision, many pets lead normal active lives. Teaching your dog ‘up’ and ‘down’ commands to help them navigate steps and curbs, giving them confidence out on walks. Many blind dogs can still enjoy time off lead in a safe space as well as walks in new places.”
“Loss of sight in a beloved pet can be upsetting, but with a little care and patience owners can help their pet to adapt, ensuring they continue to have a good quality of life.”
PDSA is the UK’s leading vet charity. We’re on a mission to improve pet wellbeing through prevention, education and treatment. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information. www.pdsa.org.uk