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Coping with blindness

Cats may start to lose their sight for a variety of reasons, including old age. Inherited causes of blindness are less common in cats compared to dogs but are seen in some purebred cats. For example progressive retinal atrophy in Abyssinian cats (for which a genetic test is available). Medical causes for loss of sight in adult and older animals are more common including trauma, neurological problems and high blood pressure. In older cats the loss of senses is often so gradual that many owners don't notice anything unusual, until the loss becomes total. Cats compensate for impaired vision by relying more on their remaining senses, especially smell.

How can I tell if my cat is blind?

Cats that bump into things may be losing their sight. Those that are blind in one eye may be startled by sudden movements on their blind side. Cats that go suddenly blind may be disorientated and distressed. You may notice an abnormality by looking at the eyes. If you are concerned about your cat's eyesight, arrange for an examination by your vet as some conditions can be effectively treated, preventing further vision loss. Sudden vision loss is a veterinary emergency.

To make life easier for your blind cat:

  • When talking to your pet, make your speech frequent and exaggerated.
  • Blind cats are easily disorientated and must not be allowed to roam so need to be kept indoors, or with access to a secure garden, or taken out on a collar/harness and lead, to which many cats adjust well.
  • Blind cats rely on scent and memory to find their way around, so keep food, furniture and litter trays in the same place and initially you may need to show your cat where these resources are.
  • A newly blind cat or blind cat in a new environment should be kept in a small space (one room) initially before being slowly allowed to explore.
  • Remind children not to leave toys around or the blind cat may trip over them.
  • Highlight potential hazards, such as stair landings, with small amounts of lemon oil.
  • Don't leave obstacles in unexpected places.
  • Make sure if you cat wears a collar that it’s a quick release one with their name, address and the phone number of a vet and they must be microchipped.
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