Blindness in dogs can occur for several reasons; some are born blind and others become blind through illness, injury or old age. When you have a blind dog, or are indeed considering adopting one, the most important thing to remember is that blind dogs should enjoy everything sighted dogs enjoy. Blind dogs make perfect companions and have full, happy lives.
Sight is actually behind hearing and sense of smell in terms of the importance of dog’s senses as they have touch and taste to rely on too. The simple truth is, with dogs being such adaptable and inherently happy animals, their blindness is probably more difficult for us to deal with than it is for them. We are likely to overthink it – dogs just get on with it.
Of course, there are several things you can do to make life easier for a dog that’s gone blind. It’s important to maintain your normal routine of walks, play and general family life – your dog will still enjoy everything they did before losing their sight and will need the stimulation of activities more than ever.
If you’re happy, they’re happy
It’s important to remain happy and upbeat – dogs can sense human sadness. Your voice is incredibly soothing to your dog (blind or perfectly sighted) so talk to and praise your dog verbally as much as possible. You may want to become a little heavier footed around your home too, as your dog will sense the vibrations and know when you’re moving around.
It all starts at home
Many owners are very nervous about how a blind dog will navigate their home safely and of course this is entirely understandable. When a dog is born blind they have always relied on other senses and will navigate as well as a sighted dog, but dog’s that have become blind will need a little help.
At home make sure there are no hazards, like sharp furniture, that your dog could walk into – if there are, pad with some foam. Walk around your home, room to room, with your dog on a short lead, allowing them to create a map in their mind. Let your dog explore and use set words to alert them of something that might catch them out, like a slippery laminate floor after a carpeted area. Use treats as rewards as you move about.
Avoid picking your dog up and carrying them –even if you have a toy breed – your dog will learn to navigate your home very quickly and their independence is important. Use baby gates to block off any potentially hazardous areas until you’re sure your dog has its ‘home mind map’ memorised.
Make navigation easy
Scent markers, widely available to buy, are a brilliant way to help blind dogs around the home as they make navigation a multi-sensory experience and are also calming. Different scents can be attached to different areas and items, like toys for example.
With scent and sound being your dog’s main senses, it’s important to use these to their full potential in play. Choose toys that are squeaky or contain a bell, as this will help your dog locate them. Toys that hide treats, and so use their sense of smell, are another great choice.
If space in your home allows, a dedicated area for your dog with a mat is a great idea as it gives a place to play and your dog will quickly learn where the edge of mat (or rug) is. Keeping your dog’s bed, bowls and toys in this area will create a reassuring base that they can return to if they ever get confused.
Keep up the walks!
It’s vitally important that you don’t keep your dog at home because they are blind – socialising is really important for your dog’s mental health and blind dogs need exercise as much as sighted ones. A harness and short lead are a good idea, as is a bandana, vest or other item that let’s other people know they are blind.
With very little effort on our part, blind dogs can enjoy everything life has to offer them. It’s a cliché, but it’s true that blind dogs see with their hearts.
Has your dog lost its sight or have you adopted a blind dog? We’d love to hear your stories.