Just like people, dogs can experience a loss of eyesight as they get older. While some dogs are born sightless or visually impaired, others may lose their vision due to cataracts, glaucoma, progressive retinal atrophy, or suddenly acquired retinal degeneration (also known as SARDS). While most fur parents would do anything for their beloved fur babies, caring for a blind dog or one who is losing its eyesight can present a special set of challenges. But it isn’t a difficult as you might think!
Ultimately, the loss of eyesight does not mean your fur baby must suffer a poor quality of life. On the contrary. You might be surprised how well your blind pup can get around without seeing a thing! As the fur parent of a blind, 12-year-old Boston Terrier, I am in a qualified position of experience to provide some insight and tips for living with a blind dog.
My husband and I adopted Miss Sweet Pea from the Humane Society of the Nature Coast in August of 2020. We didn’t plan on having a new fur-baby so soon. We had just lost our precious Mr. Maximus after a year-long battle with canine lymphoma and we were still deep in grief. Then we saw Sweet Pea, a 12-year-old, blind Boston Terrier with (what we have come to learn is) selective hearing and fell in love immediately. Then came our new challenge… living with a blind dog.
Of course, the first thing we did was to go online to find information and tips for living with a blind dog. Most sources offer the same common sense suggestions. But the ones we find the most helpful are the ones we’ve learned through experience. A selection of both are shared below.
Prepare Your Home for Your Blind Fur Baby
If you have just adopted a sightless or vision impaired dog, it’s a good idea to arrange the furniture in your home in a way that allows for ease of movement through each room. When you bring your sightless fur baby home for the first time, walk them through the house on a leash – slowly — so they can start becoming familiar with the layout of their new surroundings. Talk to them and let them know where they are.
Pay particular attention to showing them the way to their bed and their food and water bowls. Show them the way to the doors to other rooms and how to go outside and be sure to familiarize them with the backyard for when they need to go do their business. Help your dog create a house and yard roadmap in their mind.
If you have a pet that is going blind, keep as much of the existing environment and furniture payout the same as possible. They already know their way around and drastic changes could create confusion, fear and even injury.
WARNING: If you have a pool or a pond in your back yard, NEVER LET YOUR BLIND DOG GO THERE UNSUPERVISED!!!
We have a large pond in our backyard. One night, Miss Sweet Pea decided to cross the bridge that spans the width of the pond and, when she made that right turn too early, she fell straight into the pond and sank like a rock. I ran, jumped in and fished her off the bottom of the pond and she came up sputtering and shaking. That was a terrifying lesson I will never forget. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER LEAVE YOUR BLIND DOG UNSUPERVISED NEAR WATER!!!
Again — DON’T REARRANGE THE FURNITURE!
For anyone who knows me, they can tell you. For me to not rearrange furniture is like not tapping my foot when I hear my favorite song playing. I love rearranging furniture to keep things new… But “new” can be hazardous for your blind dog. Even setting something down on the floor for a moment, like a basket of laundry or a sack of groceries, becomes a roadblock for your blind fur baby. I was pressure washing the lanai one day and went to let Sweet Pea out to go potty and BAM… she ran face-first into it because it was smack-dab in the middle of the path she took going out to the back yard.
Sweet Pea has already learned her way around the house and is so familiar with the layout she gets around just as well as her sighted fur-siblings. In fact, when people come to visit, they are surprised to find out she can’t see.
Be Aware of Where They Are
Because Sweet Pea loves being around us, she follows the sound of our voices. Because of that and we frequently find ourselves turning around and almost tripping over her. Her tiny size only adds to the frequency with which she becomes a tripping hazard (hence her nickname “speed bump”). While it’s frustrating and sometimes scary for us, we can only imagine what it’s like for her. Imagine just wanting some company only to wind up getting a foot in the head.
Pay Attention to Floor Textures
Another thing we’ve observed is “how” Sweet Pea navigates her way around the house and backyard. She is actually “listening” and “feeling” her way around. When her paws are tapping on granite tile, she knows she’s in the wide-open area of the living room and she zips around as fast as her sighted brother Einstein and sister cats, Little Bit and Miss Kitty Kitty. Because the tile in the dining area has a different texture, she knows precisely when she enters the dining area. When her paws touch the low-nap area rug, she knows she’s near furniture and she slows down. When her feet hit thick pile carpet, she knows she’s in the bedrooms.
Try to leave area rugs where they are. Moving them will confuse your fur-baby. When I had a runner from the hallway hanging on the fence to dry after a good scrubbing, she stopped abruptly when she came to where it should have been. She then moved cautiously forward until she came to where she knew where she was again before resuming her confident pace.
If you frequently leave doors open, don’t start keeping them closed. If you have a sliding door to go outside, pay attention when you open and close it. If Sweet Pea hears the door open she will sometimes come running to go out. If I shut it before she gets there, without knowing she’s coming… Well, it’s no fun watching her smash face-first into the glass.
Introduce Them to Their Fur (or Feathered) Siblings
If you have other pets in your home, take time to introduce your blind pup to each one of them with supervision, especially if any of them are known to be “enthusiastic” playmates.
While Sweet Pea’s sister kitties aren’t the “play-time” sort, they are known to snuggle with Sweet Pea for naps and at bed-time. Sweet Pea has already trained big brother Einstein to know she isn’t a push-over and se frequently claims his bed just to remind him who’s in charge! But it’s always adorable when they all nap together… and it’s always on mom and dad’s bed.
Sweet Pea adored her sister Nadya. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sped much time with Nadya because she was ill when we adopted her. But Sweet Pea helped us give her the best life ever.
Let others know your dog is blind
When other people see your dog, they may ask… “Can I pet your dog?” While you might be okay with that, it’s important to let your sightless pup know someone is getting ready to touch them. There are times when I look over at Miss Sweet Pea while she’s sitting next to me on the sofa and she’s just so darn adorable I have to reach over to give her a pat on the head… and she almost jumps out of her skin.
Always give your blind fur baby a verbal warning before you touch them. When others want to pet your pup, tell the person your dog is blind and ask them to call your pup’s name and to approach slowly. Have them put their hand near your dog’s face so they can smell the person is near them and allow the dog to lean forward to get their scent. It would also be a good idea to have your dog wear something that will identify their condition when around other people and especially in case your dog gets lost.
When we have company, Sweet Pea can hear the new voice in the house. As she goes over to meet them I advise the guest that she is bind and I ask them to stand still until she checks them out. She’ll go over, smell their legs, and then she walks away. Interestingly, when a guest returns that she liked and she hears their voice she will go over, smell their leg and when she has confirmed their scent she gets so excited, standing on her hind legs bouncing with happiness in a plea for them to pick her up so she can give them kisses!
When going out in public it’s a good idea to prepare them with something that will let others know they are blind. Get a shirt, bandana or vest for your dog that reads “I’m blind” to wear on walks. Tell people about your dog’s condition so they approach slowly and let the dog sniff them first. Also, get a tag for your dog’s collar that says “I’m blind” in case the pup ever gets lost. There are also halos, which protect the pup’s head when exploring new environments.
Give your dog a safe zone.
It is important to establish an area in the house that provides a safe place for your blind pup to “get away.”
So, to provide her a “safe space,” Sweet Pea and her big German Shepherd Dog brother Einstein have a little spot against the wall in the family room where they can be out of the way of “traffic,” yet still be part of the gang. There’s a large dog bed for Einstein and a small one for Sweet Pea. But, that’s not to say she doesn’t claim his bed now and then. We do find that Sweet Pea goes there often and will frequently sit facing the wall. We thought it was strange at first. But then we realized… No matter which way she is facing, the “view” for Sweet Pea is always the same!
Fun, Pleasure and Play-Time
One of the greater challenges with a blind dog is finding ways to engage with them in play. Since they can’t see, “fetch” is out. But there are other ways to have fun with your sightless pup. The best way to discover what they enjoy is to pay attention. They will let you know.
Sweet Pea loves plush squeaky toys! In fact, whenever we come home (even if it was after a short trip to the grocery store), we give her a squeaky toy. She is so excite, she takes it in her mouth, runs to her bed and shakes it around until she gets the excitement out of her system. Then she finds you and insists on snuggles. It’s a ritual we all enjoy.
A peculiar thing we have noticed is Sweet Pea really loves sitting in the sunlight. While she can’t see sunlight, she can definitely feel it, and you can tell by the look on her face that it feels so very good.
Whether she’s inside or outside, she has her favorite places where she knows the sun will be shining and she will sit there, eye closed, for the longest time doing nothing but soak up the warmth.
She love dress-up! It doesn’t matter what it is. But you can tell, the moment you put something on her she literally smiles .
Sweet Pea absolutely loves playing dress-up hanging around the Silkie Chickens. Maybe their small size makes her feel like a big sister! When the Silkies are free ranging in the backyard Sweet Pea likes hanging together with them. Hedda Hopper has really boded with her. They often find a sunny spot in the yard and just sit there soaking up the rays together. On Tu Tu Tuesdays they get dressed up and Sweet Pea grins like she knows she’s pretty!
So, there you have it. Except for the fact that one can’t see, there really isn’t much difference between as sighted and blind dogs. While one might require a little extra care, they both love to play, they love to get snuggles and they love being part of a family.
If you have a vision-impaired dog and have some advice to share, or if you have a dog that is losing sight or plan on adopting a sightless pup and have questions, please share it in the comment section below.