Several months ago, our Cairn terrier rescue, Nora, went blind rather quickly. This condition came shortly after her diagnosis of Cushing’s disease. We’re not sure if there’s a correlation between the blindness and the disease, the blindness and the medication, or if it’s completely unrelated to either. It’s not feasible for us to travel 100 miles to a veterinary ophthalmologist, so we will probably never know why.
When Nora went blind, I read a book called Living With Blind Dogs, by Caroline D. Levin, which was very helpful. Now that we’ve been living with a blind dog for a while, I thought I’d share some tips that we’ve found helpful.
- It’s scary at first—for both you and your dog. Blindness in dogs often comes on suddenly, so the dog has to quickly get used to her new normal. This means a lot of bumping into things. It’s hard to watch, and you might find yourself in a state of hypervigilance for a time. It will get better.
- Stay cheerful for your dog’s sake. Dogs can sense when you’re sad and upset. This will only make him sad and upset, too. Being cheerful will help your dog understand that you are in charge and that he is safe. Keep playing, too. There are toys that make noise that your dog will enjoy very much.
- Be careful around dogs you don’t know. Dogs use body language to communicate, and your blind dog won’t pick up on those cues anymore. She won’t know if another dog is telling her to stay away or whether it’s okay to sniff around. So, when walking your dog, be cautious with other pups you meet along the way.
- Use more voice commands. Throw those hand signals you learned in obedience class out the window. They won’t help a blind dog. Luckily, dogs can learn lots of words, including left and right. Just think of teams of horses that know gee and haw. Your dog can also learn words, such as “step up, step down, slowly, careful, and STOP!”
- Keep the furniture in place. This isn’t the time to rearrange your decor. Also, be sure to push your chair in at the table, and don’t leave items lying around on the floor, such as your gym bag or briefcase. In our house, we’ve also placed foam bumpers on the corners of the coffee table after seeing Nora smack into them too many times.
- Recruit another dog to help. If you have another dog, he can act as a sort of seeing-eye dog for the one that’s blind. Nutmeg often runs in front of Nora when she’s headed for a wall or a piece of furniture.
- Use lots of praise. Praise your blind dog’s smallest accomplishments. Dogs love learning new things, and learning how to get around will be a victory for her. The praise will help your dog’s mood, too. Blind dogs can actually suffer from depression.
So, there you have it, seven bits about living with a blind dog. Our Nora’s quality of life is still very good, even with her Cushing’s disease. And a dog expert at the groomer’s told me that sight is the least important of a dog’s senses.
Ann Silverthorn writes about a wide variety of topics in numerous genres. She’s currently working on a biography of William E. Dimorier (1871-1951), a nearly forgotten poet and educator, who dedicated his life to the betterment of young people and the community.