Caring For A Blind Dog Or Cat

Here at Leave No Paws Behind, our main focus is rescuing senior animals in local shelters with medical issues. As such, we see many animals with eye and sight related issues. Glaucoma, cataracts, and progressive retinal atrophy are fairly common eye issues that appear in dogs. These can cause pain, may lead to blindness, and can require surgery. We have rescued several animals that are blind or have had to have surgery to remove either one or both eyes that are living with our amazing fosters. We wanted to share some helpful tips and show you just how amazing these animals can be. Animals are extremely resilient and resourceful, and often, these animals have no idea there is anything wrong with them at all.

I recently spent some time with one of our foster families (Amanda & Bre) that have three of our rescue dogs, two of which are blind. I wanted to know what they had to do differently, or what special arrangements they had to make to help care for them and help them navigate the house. I learned a lot from them, but my big takeaway was just how easily these dogs fit in with the rest of their pack, and how easily they get around their home.

Jackson and Toby are their two blind seniors. Jackson is the beige chihuahua mix, and Toby is the fuzzier apricot terrier mix. When we rescued Jackson, he was blind, most likely due to cataracts. When we rescued Toby, the shelter had removed one eye, it still had stitches in it, and the other eye had already been removed and was healed, and our best guess is he was in pain due to glaucoma. 

Between speaking with this family, talking with our other fosters, and internet research, here are some helpful hints and tips for living with a blind pet. 

  1. Be vocal. Use your calm, cheery voice with words and commands to help your blind pet navigate obstacles like staircases, to help find you, or to stay safe. Commands like up, down, stop, left and right can help your pet stay safe and enjoy spending time both inside and outside. Your voice will also become a calming and soothing sound and help him recognize familiar people. And always announce your presence prior to reaching out to stroke or pick up your pet to avoid startling them.
  2. Make your home safe and familiar. When first bringing home a blind pet, they may need to be kept on a leash as you walk them through the house. If you have stairways, use gates to prevent a fall. Block off areas where they could possibly get stuck or wedged. A textured carpet runner on well traveled slick tile or wood floors may help them navigate the house safely and familiarize themselves if they get lost. 
  3. Keep things the same. Try to minimize moving furniture around so your pet doesn't get disoriented. Keep water bowls, food bowls, and litter boxes in the same place. 
  4. Keep the floor clean. Try not to leave backpacks, shoes, purses or boxes on the floor where a pet can run into them, trip over them, or prevent them from getting around. Try not to leave grocery bags in front of water and food bowls.
  5. If they are an only pet, or are left in a crate while you are out, leaving a TV or radio on for ambient noise can help relieve loneliness.
  6. Keep their day structured and similar. Walking them along the same streets creates comfort and familiarity. Feeding them at the same time every day helps them create a routine.
  7. Blind pets may not be able to sense light and dark. To prevent them being up while you are trying to sleep, and asleep while you are up, ambient noise during the day can help them learn daytime from nighttime. Daily playtime and exercise at a similar time each day can also help them reset their internal clock.
  8. Engage their other senses. A dog's nose and ears are amazing tools. When a dog is blind, their other senses are heightened. We have one foster that recommends using essential oils around the house. Place lavender oil around pet beds. A vanilla essential oil can be used on toys, and the doggy door to help them navigate the house and find their things. Wind chimes by outside doors can help them find the doorways. Toys that make noise can help them engage in play time. Use a textured mat under food and water bowls, litter boxes, and in front of couches so that cats and dogs can remember the positions of these things. If you have a cat, a perch infront of a screened in window can engage his sense of smell and sounds.
  9. Another pet in the house can help the blind animal find his way around and earn the lay of the land. If you have a rambunctious pet, or a high energy younger pet, perhaps putting a bell or tags on their collar can help announce their presence to the blind animal.
  10. Blind pets need exercise and socialization too! Make sure that your blind pet is getting the exercise she needs. When on walks, always use a leash and you may find that a harness instead of a collar on dogs can make walks easier and safer for your blind pet. Socialization is still important too, but take it slow. Remember that blind animals can't read another animals body language. Always inform others that your pet is blind, and allow your pet to smell them first before they try to reach out and pet your dog.
  11. Always make sure your pet has a microchip and a collar on with identification, perhaps even mentioning they are blind.

Selleck, the blind kitten below, was rescued by us from a shelter in an area that was hit by Hurricane Harvey. Selleck has glaucoma, and his eyes are causing him pain. Our vet, The Pet Doctors of Sherman Oaks, will be removing his eyes this week to relieve the pressure and pain that he is feeling. Selleck is the cutest, happiest, most curious kitten you'll ever meet. He truly has no idea he's blind, as most likely he was born not being able to see. He plays and engages and loves to roam around. 

As soon as he recovers from his surgery, he will be going into a foster home. If you would like to donate to Selleck's ongoing care, or help us continue to care for our current and future fosters, you can do so here.

While there are some adjustments that need to be made, please don't disregard the possibility of adopting or fostering a dog or cat because they are blind. These pets can easily integrate into most households and really don't require much more than any other pet. They just require a little patience in the beginning as they learn their way around. With these helpful hints, you can easily bring a blind, loving, and grateful pet into your home. And if you are worried that they won't protect your house, they will still know when the mail person or delivery driver shows up on the porch 😄