Fortunately most eye diseases are successfully treated with medication or surgery. However, in some cases vision is irreversibly lost. Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and Glaucoma are two common causes of permanent blindness. Veterinarians are often asked whether a blind dog or cat can lead a happy life.
The answer is an unequivocal “YES!”
While there are certainly some things that they may be unable to do, most of the activities that are important to our pets are still possible. A blind dog or cat will behave remarkably normally in their own home. Animals that lose vision gradually appear to adjust better than those that lose vision rapidly. In both cases, with a bit of patience, we have found that almost every pet can make this adjustment. They will remember where their food and water are and rarely bump into things in the home. Try not to rearrange the furniture and you will be amazed at how well your pet will remember the floor plan — even going up and down stairs. They will still play with toys and may prefer a ball with a bell or a squeak toy. They will enjoy interacting with their human family in most all of the same ways as they did before they lost vision. A blind pet can continue in every way in their primary role as a loving companion.
It is important to recognize that, while vision is important to dogs and cats, they have many other senses that help them adjust to the loss of this one. Their senses of hearing and smell are much more sensitive than ours — dogs would think our normal senses a handicap! Loss of vision does not represent the same hardship for our pets as it would for us. For us, blindness would mean an inability to read or drive a car and a loss of independence. Our pets are already (happily) dependent on us.
A blind pet does have some special needs, including a protected environment. This is particularly important because they behave so normally that you may forget that they are handicapped. Hazards for a blind pet include swimming pools, traffic and balconies. A blind dog should always be kept on a leash when outside of a fenced yard; you may find a harness works better than a collar for guiding your pet on walks outdoors. There are tools available to help you keep your pet safe while still allowing some freedom. For example, there is an alarm you can attach to your pets collar to alert you if they fall in the swimming pool.
Here is an inspirational article written by one of our clients who continued to train her agility dog after she began to go blind.
If you have a pet that has lost vision, you may appreciate some of the web sites available on this subject:
There are also two very good books by Caroline Levin, RN: “Living With Blind Dogs: A Resource Book and Training Guide for the Owners of Blind and Low-Vision Dogs” and “Blind Dogs Stories: Tales of Triumph, Humor, and Heroism” They are available from Lantern Publications.