Dogs are resilient creatures but, like humans, can lose their sight. They may be born blind or lose their vision through illness or age. Having to navigate an unfamiliar environment is be like a puppy learning new tricks - as suddenly having no sight is a learning curve for owner and dog.
Is it fair to ask a doggy-pal to live without being able to see? Most pet parents would be willing to try, but what is expected and how will they both adjust? If you’ve ever wondered how to live with a dog that recently lost their sight - go grab a coffee as there is a lot to be learned!
Signs your Dog Can Live Without Sight
Has your dog been acting weird lately - bumping into the furniture or crying a lot? You’ve noticed your little pooch is lethargic as she sits staring into space when normally she would be playing with her toys. There has also been a gain in weight and she’s constantly thirsty, drinking water from her bowl all of the time.
A quick trip to the vet reveals the frightening news; your baby girl might be going blind. They will do a ton of tests to verify what the cause is and whether her sight can be saved. This is a shock and as you leave her behind at the vets, questions are racing around in your head. Can my baby survive if she is blind? What kind of life will she have?
Days later the vet phones to let you know your fun-loving fur-baby has a disease of the eyes called "Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration" (SARDS) and is almost blind. This fast-moving disease affects doggos 6 – 14 years of age who can lose their site within four weeks of diagnosis. The vet says it could be genetic and at present, there is no cure.
Although the news is devastating, you are ready to take on the new challenges, as you pick your pup up from the vet. Marcy, your pup, looks happy to be home and seems to know her way around the living room. Her tail is wagging as she lets out a little bark, having just encountered the new chair you bought while she was at the vet. You realize there is a lot to do so Marcy feels secure in her home. Keeping the furniture layout the same is important to avoid your canine from getting hurt.
If you have stairs, put a baby gate in front and check any sharp edges on the furniture while making clear paths for her to navigate from room to room. Dogs adapt well to disability and Marcy seems happy as she tilts her head - doing that funny pacing thing that makes you laugh. You might hear her growl or whine if something is different in her path, so denying the interior-designer-within will be better for your blind dog.
When you go for a walk she’ll be nervous at first, so take her to the park or to other places she’s been before. She’ll be familiar with the smells and sounds of her old haunts and friendly doggy-mates. Always keep her on leash so she can’t be allowed to wonder off or get into strife with bully dogs. The leash can be long so she can scamper around the park, howling like a wolf and generally having fun.Your sweet, petite poochy can have a truly fulfilling life, it just takes a bit of adjustment on both sides. If you hear her squeak or whine in the night you might find she has had an accident, as she couldn’t find her way to the door. Marcy has always been the perfect, house-trained pet so she’s cowering and shaking - thinking you’ll be mad. With your love and support, she’ll survive just fine.
History Of Dogs Living Without Sight
It’s probable that a blind dog may not have fared so well in history except for the kindness of those who appreciated the dog could still see with its heart. Blind wolves in the wild could be protected by the pack, but survival of the fittest makes a wolf without sight an easy target for predators.
History is scarce in the revelations of dogs without sight until the domestication of our doggo partners who, as Guide Dogs, are a great support to blind people. It’s only fair the favor is returned when our magical mutts are diagnosed with a disease of the eyes, or condition that can make them go blind.
Wolves are the ancestors of dogs with sharp eyes designed to see sneaky predators and hunt prey. They have a panoramic vision that enables them to see all. Dogs with similarly shaped heads like German Shepherds have inherited the vision of their wolf forefathers but other flat-faced breeds haven’t fared so well.
Although dogs have been our furry friends for thousands of years, the last hundred have been devoted to stylizing the look, height, shape and purpose of our canines. We have created different types of canines and with that has come health problems unique to particular breeds. The quest for perfection has manifested a multitude of Rover types as mankind has altered evolution, designing pups with alternatives looks.
These are some of the eye problems that can lead to your dog going blind:
Cataracts are caused by the lens in the eye clouding and are seen in purebreds like the Boston Terrier, Bichon Frise, Poodle, Miniature Schnauzer and American Cocker Spaniel. Dogs with diabetes often develop cataracts and can go blind.
Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve and if not treated will cause blindness in humans and dogs. It’s also inherited through breeds and can affect dogs between 3 and 6 years. It’s often seen in the breed of the Chow Chow, Jack Russell Terrier, Shih-Tzu and Siberian Huskey.
Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration is a disease that can quickly make your dog blind. Breeds susceptible to SARDS are Dachshunds and Schnauzers, but it has been known to affect any mixed or purebred pooch.
Collie Eye Anomaly affects most breeds of Collies and can lead to blindness
Chronic Superficial Keratitis is a genetic susceptibility leading to blindness in German Shepherds, for which there is no cure.
If you are told by the vet your dogster is going blind, you can still have that fabulous relationship as dogs are survivalists and will adapt using their other super-senses of hearing and smell to guide them through life!
Science Studies Of Blind Dogs
Science studies show that dogs have a heightened sense of hearing and smell; they also have awareness and a memory for places they have been. Pupsters who have been separated from their family have been known to walk miles to find them again and dogs that have suddenly become blind are able to call on their unique talents to help them adjust to life with no vision.
There is good news, as “ABC Science” reports Scientists in the US have used gene therapy to restore the vision of a blind dog- giving hope to canines with impaired sight. This monumental happening took place at the Pennsylvania University and featured dogs with “Leber Congenital Amaurosis,” a rare form of blindness caused by degeneration of the retina.
Another story of Doggy hope comes from “Science Mag” about Veterinary researchers at the Iowa State University who have been working on a cure for SARDS, a fast-acting disease of the retina. Dogs in the study were given a human blood product used to help immune, inflammatory diseases and the successful outcome meant two pups had their sight restored. Around 4,000 dogs a year in North America alone go blind from this previously incurable disease.
Training Tips For Owners Of Blind Dogs
A dog who is born blind might not know he is any different while a pup that’s suddenly lost his sight may feel the world is a dark and scary place. Whether your dog is blind in one eye (unilateral) or in both (bilateral) he’s going to need help in re-learning his way around.
Your home should not be an obstacle course so Rover is constantly banging into things and getting distressed. If you have a pool outside, make sure it’s all fenced off and set up your dog's bed and water bowl in one easy-to-find place. It’s a bit like baby-proofing the house, so do a thorough check to ensure your blind fur-child is safe and secure.
If your muttster has been trained in the basics of sit, stay and come, it will be fairly easy to get him to respond to commands - in the home or away. Remember, this dog sees nothing but darkness and will rely on you for reassurance that they are doing okay. If you close your eyes for a minute or more, it will enable you to understand the confusion your fur-baby might feel.
Your stately Staffordshire Terrier may feel lonely in his new, shadowy world, so spend time giving him comfort and letting them know how much you care. Invite friends with dogs your Staffi knows so he can learn to socialize in new ways. You want your Staffi to feel confident in the home or while walking in the park, so just being your normal self will quickly put him at ease. Dogs can read you’re emotions and they don’t need their sight to know if you’re feeling overwhelmed or sad
A safe haven in the house will be somewhere for them to go if the kids are running around or mom's doing things to the home.A crate with the door wide open is the perfect retreat. If there are other dogs in the house, put bells on their collars and if you go out leave the TV or radio on to relieve loneliness.
Verbal cues are the key to keeping your dog motivated and safe while some owners prefer clicker training and rewards for a task well done. Teach your blind baby new commands like "move left," "move right" plus "up and down" for navigating stairs and "stop" to keep them safe.
The early days will be testing and it’s important you keep a positive vibe. Your Staffi will be bit shell-shocked as he works to understand what he’s lost. You both can get through this and have an exceptionally dog-happy life.
By a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole
Published: 02/12/2018, edited: 04/06/2020