How to care for a visually impared dog

DrPaul -

How to care for a visually impared dog

Visual impairment and blindness is actually quite common in dogs, especially as they age, but dogs can cope surprisingly well with a loss of vision, much better than humans can. This is because sight is in fact one of the ‘lesser’ senses in dogs with smell or hearing being far more important. In fact loss of these latter two senses can be far more debilitating for our dogs.

There are a number of reasons why a dog may lose their sight and whilst visual deterioration can be a normal part of the ageing process, there are number of diseases and traumas that can cause rapid onset blindness so if you are noticing the signs of vision loss then you should have a vet check as soon as possible. It’s also important that you are aware of any
breed specific eye conditions that might put your dog at risk of vision issues in the future since this could help you to pick up any early warning signs around your dog’s deteriorating sight.

The signs of visual deterioration can be quite subtle and dogs can adapt really well to gradual vision loss but some of the things you might notice are increased clumsiness, difficulty finding toys or finding you when out on walks. Dogs can become reluctant to exercise or can become very ‘clingy’ especially when outside of the home. You might also see some physical changes to the eyes such as cloudiness of the cornea or a red appearance to the eyes or perhaps even signs of pain. Any indication that there may be a problem with your dogs vision or any associated pain with the eyes should be dealt with as quickly as possible as some problems, if treated quickly, can be resolved or the progression of that disease can be slowed.

If your dog has lost or they are gradually losing their vision then there are few simple steps you can take, both in and out of the home to make them more comfortable.

It’s really important to create a ‘safe zone’ for your dog, almost like a retreat that is safe from any hazards and is a place your dog can easily access and locate.

You should also keep a consistent routine and stick to familiar dog walking routes and parks, this will help your dog to feel safe and secure when taking them outside of the home. A tag on your dogs’ collar or lead informing other dog owners that your dog is blind may help to prevent any potential altercations.

Look at the floor plan of your home and make sure that your dog has easy access to all the areas of the house that they are allowed and regularly use. It’s worth moving any furniture that is impeding their route and to consider corner protectors for any sharp furniture edges. It’s also worth investing in a baby gate for stairs or any areas that you don’t want them to access. Once you’ve decided on a floor plan then it’s important that you don’t change it and keep things like food and water bowls in the same place. Familiarity is key!

A bell on the collar of other family pets is also highly recommended, as it will help prevent any defensive responses that may result from your dog being startled.

Talk to your dog! Sound is really reassuring to our dogs and is so important. Not only is it reassuring it will also help your dog to locate you. When you go out consider leaving a radio or the TV on as this will also help orient your dog around the home, as well as provide reassurance and prevent feelings of loneliness.

Placing location cues around the home will also help your dog to orientate their way around. Textured rugs at the top and bottom of stairs will help your dog to learn these locations.

Finally a dog is never too old to learn new tricks! Teaching your dog cue words such as “step up” or “hold” will assist in their navigation of new territory and prevent accidental injury.

Paul Manktelow

Veterinary Surgeon

Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who's worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK's busiest veterinary hospitals. Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.