The loss of vision is most unfortunate for any patient, whether the patient is human or canine. Your pet should adjust to blindness over time. Your pet will begin to rely more heavily on their other senses such as hearing and smell to help them get around. In fact, there also seems to be some sort of 'radar' that will help your pet navigate in their environment.
Blind pets learn to quickly negotiate their territory with ease without bumping into objects. You should help your pet by keeping the environment as stable as possible. Furniture should not be moved and the food and water bowls should remain in the same position. You should try to educate any small children about your pets blindness so that they will approach them without startling. You and any guests or children should announce your presence so that your pet knows you are there.
Your pet can exercise normally but should always be supervised, especially when in unfamiliar surroundings. A fenced backyard or exercise area is perfectly acceptable.
With a little guidance from you, as a 'seeing eye person', your pet should live a perfectly happy life. Your pet is not in pain and does not need to be put to sleep just because of blindness. Dogs and cats don't seem to have the psychological problems that humans have with blindness so you should not feel any guilt about continuing your relationship with your best friend.
Blind dogs and cats cope well because they have:1. Good senses of smell.
2. Good senses of hearing.
3. Good knowledge of their limited environments.
Below are some suggestions to help you and your pet make the transition
1. If you have other pets, try placing a bell on their collar so that your pet knows where they are. If you have multiple pets - place different sounding bells on each pet. It is interesting to note that other dogs in the family usually take on a role of leader and lead their blind friend around.
2. Don't re-arrange your furniture if your pet is mostly indoors. If they spend most time outdoors, don't plan major landscape projects.
3. Make sure your pet does not have access to roads and traffic. If your pet is an outdoor dog and you have no fence, look into the purchase of an 'invisible fence'.
4. If you have a spa/hot tub or pool, a cover or barrier is necessary because your pet could fall into the water and drown.
5. Feed your pet and keep the feed and water dish in exactly the same place every day. This area and the sleeping area will then become a site for reference if your pet becomes disorientated.
6. Until your pet learns to negotiate stairs, you will need to place a barrier to prevent access to minimise the chance of falling down. The same is true for stair landings. Most clients remark that walking up and down stairs is the most difficult of all things for their pet to 're-learn'. Be patient, your pet is trying there best. You can use treats to entice your pet up and down the stairs by placing them just out of reach on the step above or below. Using the word 'step' when there is an elevation change will teach them to pay extra attention and learn about steps and curbs. Counting stairs may help some pets, and even changing your voice a note higher or lower when going up or down.
7. Buy some aromatic/essential oil or use citronella and dab little spots at nose height on the corners of furniture, backs of chairs and places they are more likely to bump into. Using another scent also put a drop in the centre or edge of each step so your pet can sniff the next stair. You can mark out boundaries for example on the edge of verandas to help your pet learn where the edge is. Oil-based perfumes tend to be more expensive however they are much more effective. They smell nice and without the alcohol they use in less expensive lines and sprays they won't evaporate so quickly. One drop from an eyedropper should be enough. Re-mark the rooms every three to four weeks. Your pet should quickly learn the scent of many pieces of furniture so marking many places again may not be necessary.
8. Learn to verbalise everything. This will help your pet to still enjoy walks off leash. If you start to walk away and you want them to come, say 'come', pat the side of your leg and continue to do so to allow them to have a sound bearing on you. Whenever you approach, call his name or stomp the floor so they don't get surprised. Tell strangers to talk to your pet as they approach and allow them an extra chance to smell them.
9. Understand that your pet will no longer be able to communicate with other dogs as easily and will be oblivious to posturing and body language.
10. Take your pet on two or three different walks regularly to allow them to memorise the way and enable them to still enjoy walks outside of the home environment.
Remember: Owners usually find this transition harder than their pets! Persist and assist your much loved pet and in time they will manage.
COPING WITH A BLIND PET
One of our clients purchased, from the pepedog.com site (an American site) a harness for Rosie, their blind Staffy. They find the product helpful, however they have made their own adjustments with the preventive band around the head. Unfortunately there isn't a product like this available in Australia.
Photos courteous of the McInnes Family - "Rosie"