Living With a Blind Dog

by M-A Salisbury, DVM, DACVO

Blind dogs do well in a protected environment and live happily. Families of blind pets often ask if they need to euthanize the blind dog. If the pet is comfortable and not experiencing pain, the answer is NO.

Visually impaired and blind dogs have advantages over people as their hearing and sense of smell is superior to man and they have a human to assist them daily. These advantages help them adjust to the loss of sight.

Age, health, personality, training, and onset of the blindness are factors in the dog’s response to blindness. Gradual blindness is an easier adjustment than a sudden loss. It is important to see your veterinarian or a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist to determine the cause of the blindness and to be certain your pet does not have associated discomfort.

Talking to your pet allows them to identify your presence and location. Blind pets need to maintain their manners. Avoid being overprotective; do NOT carry your pet everywhere. A blind dog needs exercise to maintain body condition and muscular tone. Teach them to walk on a harness or lead so they can exercise safely and encourage exercise in a fenced yard or on a leash to discourage weight gain due to a more sedentary life. You may have to adjust food intake to keep your pet trim.

Keep food and water in the same location and be sure your pet is eating and drinking. Avoid moving furniture and if change is necessary, guide them around the house with their leash initially. Perfume or other scent on a new obstacle can help them recognize it. Be careful with staircases, swimming pools, and cars. Simple protective measures can avoid a tragedy.

Encourage the blind pet to use their other senses to compensate. Toys that have an odor or make noise are helpful. A companion pet may provide another way for a blind dog to adjust using their sense of smell or hearing. Sometimes a bell on the companion dog’s collar is helpful, as is an owner wearing a clip on cat collar with a bell on their ankle when walking the pet.

Inform family members and guests of the condition and encourage them to talk to the blind pet to avoid scaring the pet. If someone abruptly touches them, the frightened dog may understandably react defensively.

Keep a positive attitude and treat your pet “normally” whenever possible. Most pets adapt better when reassured by those around them that they are loved and expected to obey as they did when visual. Do NOT baby them. Expecting the dog to continue interacting as they did before their loss is important.

For more help, get a copy of (second edition or later) “Living with Blind Dogs,” A Resource Book and Training Guide for the Owners of Blind and Low-Vision Dogs, by Caroline D. Levin, RN (Lantern Publications).

CREDIT: This article is reprinted with permission of the author, Dr. M-A Salisbury, Animal Eye Care, Inc. 3807 Bond Place, Sarasota, FL.