Our dog Tino went blind at age nine. We weren’t prepared for it at all. One day, I noticed a little spot on his eye. I didn’t think much of it, just thought maybe he had scrapped it on something, so we took him to the vet to get it checked out. Our regular vet sent us to a specialist and when it didn’t heal after some simple eye drops, he was diagnosed with glaucoma.
Glaucoma in dogs is more serious than it is in people. In people it can be reversed with a simple procedure, but it cannot be cured in dogs. It’s caused by the position or blockage of the ducts in the eye, which drain eye fluid. When it doesn’t drain, pressure builds up, causing pain and eventual blindness from the damage. In Tino’s case, the doctor thought it might be hereditary or related to the distemper he suffered when he was a pup. The only treatment is medication to forestall the progression.
Tino had the initial sign — that slight spot — for several weeks before we got the diagnosis, so his left eye, the one with the spot, was too far gone to save and was causing him pain. The doctor recommended removal. His right eye was also damaged, but not as severely yet. He required daily medication (drops) but even with that within a fairly short time, he lost that eye as well. Suddenly, we had a blind dog.
Surprisingly, when I told friends, some wondered if we were going to euthanize Tino. That thought never crossed my mind and I was determined to do whatever I could so his quality of life wouldn’t suffer and he remained as safe as possible. Being a librarian by training, what I did do was research, research and more research!
There wasn’t a heck of a lot of useful information out there for us back in 1997, so sometimes we just went on instinct — what we thought might work or what he seemed to need. The following are the tips and techniques we found most valuable. I hope if you are ever faced with this diagnosis in one of your pets, these make it easier for your family and your dog to cope with the situation. Know that your dog is an amazing animal and with a little help, she will survive and even flourish, despite loss of vision.
Here are seven tips for living with a blind dog:
1. Use smell
It is true what they say; a dog’s primary sense is smell, not sight. We capitalized on that by using fragrant oils to mark certain spots in the house -– his bed, the door, etc., — so that by smelling his surroundings, he could find his way around.
2. Don’t move things
Dogs create a map in their brain of where things are, so DON’T move the furniture. Whenever we took Tino to a new environment, he would slowly circle the room to learn where things were, and once he had that map, he was pretty good and rarely bumped into something. I also placed pillows and cushions around sharp corners so if he did bump into something, he wouldn’t get hurt.
3. Use tactile sensations
When Tino first lost his sight, we put down runners of a different material than our carpets so he could feel the different texture with his paws and use that to know where he was in the house. We did the same in the yard and put a walkway of bark through the middle of it that led to the back door so if he got disoriented, once he got to that bark, he could find his way to the door. We also put a running track of stones around the front fence so if he was running after the UPS man, he’d know where the fence was when he got to the stones and stop.
4. Their hearing still works!
We taught Tino new commands such as “step” and “wait” so we could provide more guidance around obstacles. We also installed wind chimes outside the back door where the dog door was, so he could use the sound to orient himself and find his way to the door.
5. Get different toys
Tino loved fetch, so we got new balls that had a constant beep or alarm sound, so that he could still track them and enjoy a game of fetch. Sounds goofy, but it worked.
6. Be watchful around other dogs
Make sure your other dogs are okay with their space being invaded. We were lucky that our other family dogs seemed to sense Tino’s disability, and if he stepped on them or too near their food, they just moved out of his way. We did have a few anxious moments when meeting new dogs since Tino could not read their behavior or body posture and was uncertain whether they were friendly. Be mindful of that possibility.
Dogs are much more adaptable then people and tend to live in the moment and take things in stride. Being blind did not stop Tino from fully enjoying his life. He still ran with us regularly, monitored the perimeter of his yard, and even chased rabbits and lizards. He did all the things he did before he was blind, and some of them even better after!
Living with a blind dog really isn’t that much different than living with a sighted dog. Once Tino adapted, most people who met him didn’t believe me when I said he was blind.
Have you ever lived with a blind dog? Do you have any tips on dealing with it, or any other disabilities? Let us know in the comments.
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