Most happy pet owners struggle with housetraining the dog, or keeping the cat from scratching the couch. It is easy to take for granted the things that they can do, like hearing or seeing, while correcting or learning to endure the things they cannot, namely obeying a few basic commands.
Those errant or oddball habits are just part of daily life with an animal, whereas the loss of vision can be a trauma to your pet as well as to your household, but the initial upset is temporary and your partnership with your pet can successfully go on, with years of love and play. Occasionally, life throws you a curve ball and if you have the foresight, you might prepare yourself ahead of time.
There are eye diseases, such as glaucoma (when there is elevated pressure in the eye due to an inefficient outflow of normal fluid production), which are treatable with medical intervention, sometimes a prescription and sometimes surgery is required, but partial or full sight is then restored. There are other diseases that are genetic and cause irreversible blindness, such as progressive retinal atrophy, which causes a degeneration of the retina.
Regular vet visits and awareness of your pet's susceptibility are helpful to monitor your pet's vision, and enable early intervention. Some conditions progress slowly, thereby allowing an animal (and their owner) to adjust to the handicap, but there are unforeseen issues or events which can occur and pull the rug right out from under your two, or their four feet.
A primary thing to remember when faced with the prospect of a blind pet is that unlike humans, our domesticated animals are already highly dependent creatures. The loss of vision will not affect their ability to get a job, or drive to the store. Self-reliance is not crucial to their daily activities and overall happiness. Even when faced with blindness, their safety, comfort and exercise remain your top priorities as their responsible owner.
As with all changes, there will be an adjustment period. Your animal will need your support and encouragement to feel safe, and any features in your home that pose a risk need to be addressed. Padding furniture legs and sharp corners is a good first step to ensuring that tentative first steps without vision won't be too painful for your pet.
Compassion and empathy go a long way when beginning to address the new needs of a blind animal. For example:
- Leave familiar furniture layouts where they are to foster a sense of security.
- Gate off stairs until you have retrained the pet to confidently navigate them.
- When approaching your pet, or before petting, speak softly to them to prepare them for your contact.
- Never allow a blind animal to roam freely outdoors.
- Get down to their level and assess other steps you can take to increase their comfort.
- Creativity is an endless resource in establishing a new routine.
- Long empty hallways provide a good space for fetch.
- Slow down on walks - smelling matters even more now.
- Invest in a stiff leash that can be more directional.
- Introduce new commands, such as "step up" or "step down," that can assist your pet.
- Put bells on other pets in the household to make their presence "visible" to the blind pet.
The one constant, amid all the many little changes, is that you will cherish your pet, and your pet will continue to be a loving companion.