Blindness may be present from birth in dogs, or be acquired later in life as the result of a traumatic injury or disease, or related to aging changes of the senses. Surprisingly, dogs cope very well with loss of sight with certain changes to the way they are looked after.
Some inherited causes of blindness can be tested for in the parents or in young puppies and tend to be seen in certain breeds e.g. blindness in collies due to a condition called ‘collie eye anomaly’. When considering buying a purebred puppy speak to your vet about potentially inherited problems seen in certain breeds. If you suspect your dog is losing their vision at any time in their life consult your vet, as some conditions causing such signs are treatable, for example cataracts can be removed.
How can I tell if my dog is blind?
Dogs 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. Dogs that go suddenly blind may be disorientated and distressed. You may notice an abnormality by looking at the eyes or that the dog doesn’t follow your hand/a treat when moved. If you are concerned about your dog'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.
Surprisingly, blindness presents few problems to the average household dog. In fact, an owner will often be unaware of their dog's loss of sight until they move to a new environment, or modify an existing one. If loss of vision happens on a gradual basis, as with senile cataracts or progressive genetic conditions, animals learn to find their way around furniture, food bowls and stairwells as if their vision was perfect. Poor vision isn't necessarily that much of an obstacle once you go outside, either. An elderly Border Collie, blind since the age of seven years, could be the best at a game of fetch. And even long walks on the lead can be enjoyable if the ground surface is relatively even and the route familiar. If a dog is blind from a puppy, you may want to consult a dog trainer for advice on the best techniques for non-visual dogs.
To make life easier for your blind dog:
- Don't leave obstacles in unexpected places and avoid moving furniture around as this could cause confusion, make sure children don’t leave toys out or the dog may trip over them.
- We all talk to our dogs and routinely use verbal cues, so just make speech more frequent and exaggerated for the blind dog. Training is important here as a blind dog needs to respond solely to auditory cues.
- The sense of smell, meanwhile, can be very useful for 'tagging' specific areas of the home. For example, hazards such as stair landings could be identified with small amounts of lemon oil.
- Teach family members to approach the dog cautiously and using the dogs name as it is easy to frighten a blind dog by suddenly touching them.