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Just as human eyesight can worsen as we age, aging dogs can suffer from vision loss. However, unlike humans, dogs do not rely on vision as their most important sense. Their noses and ears allow them to adapt quite well to changes in their eyesight. Here are the signs of potential vision loss in dogs and some steps you can take to help your senior dog cope with any loss of sight.
Vision Loss in Dogs: Causes and Symptoms
There are many causes of vision loss in older dogs, including glaucoma and macular degeneration. One of the more probable causes of canine vision loss is a canine cataract, when the lens of the eye is clouded over. A cataract will appear as a hazy, opaque white growth over the eyes. Cataracts in dogs often go hand-in-hand with other illnesses, such as diabetes in dogs.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) in dogs can cause a lot of ocular problems, such as retinal detachment, which could lead to blindness. Untreated infections, chronic dry eye, and tumors or cancer can also cause blindness. Make sure your senior dog has regular vet visits (at least every six to nine months), as the sooner any eye conditions are detected and diagnosed, the better the possible outcome.
Signs of a dog losing vision can be quite obvious. Your dog might bump into walls or furniture or have trouble locating their dog food or favorite dog toys. Your dog might stop making eye contact with you. The signs can also be subtler, such as being reluctant to jump on or off the couch, a new level of dog anxiety, or becoming clingy.
Your dog may even begin to show aggression. Their vision loss may leave them feeling vulnerable. As a result, your dog might be more inclined to go on the offensive in an attempt to protect themselves.
If the loss of eyesight is gradual enough, you may not even notice vision loss in dogs right away. You may only realize your dog can’t see as well once you take your dog to a new environment or rearrange your furniture. This is because dogs can adapt so well. If you notice any of the above changes, be sure to book an appointment with your veterinarian.
Managing Vision Loss in Dogs
Even with reduced or complete lack of vision, dogs can cope surprisingly well, as long as they are in a familiar environment. It’s important to keep the layout of your house the same. For example, don’t rearrange furniture or bring in new furniture, since these can become obstacles.
When your kids come home from school, ask them not to drop their backpacks in the middle of the floor, since a dog losing vision might trip on them. Your dog will form a mental map of their surroundings, and your goal is to keep that map accurate. Be sure there are clear paths for your dog to walk from one area to another.
Don’t forget to keep your dog’s food bowl and water dish, as well as their dog bed, in the same place. In fact, these items make a great home base for your dog. If your dog becomes confused elsewhere in the house, they can return to this area to reorient. Placing their food and water on a large plastic mat will give them a feel for when they are in the right location.
If you need to move things around for any reason, be sure to walk your dog on-leash through the new arrangement several times. This allows your dog to become familiar with the path they will need to take. You can also help your dog get around new environments by teaching them directional cues such as “left,” “right,” or “stop.”
There will be new hazards to consider, both inside your home and out in your yard. For example, adding carpet runners over slick tile floors or placing wood chips around trees will help your dog have an easier time navigating. Placing a uniquely textured mat at the top and bottom of the stairs will let your dog know when they’ve reached the last step. Check for any dangerous objects that are sharp or breakable, such as pointy furniture edges or low-hanging branches, and put them out of reach of your dog.
How to Help a Blind Dog Adjust
You can help blind dogs adjust by taking advantage of their other senses. Try using flavor extracts like vanilla to scent mark important places in your house and your dog’s toys. But be sure not to let your dog ingest extracts or oils, which can be toxic if dogs eat them.
Speak to your dog aloud as you approach or before you pet them. This will stop them from being taken by surprise. Keep the TV on for your dog or leave the radio playing when you aren’t home. The noise gives them a reference point to orient to, and it helps muffle loud outside noises. And walk with a heavy step when approaching your dog, as the vibrations from your footfalls will let them know you are coming.
Prepare your dog for being out in the world. Teaching them a cue like “say hello” lets them know a person is about to approach. This will help prevent your dog from being startled by well-meaning people on the street who simply want to pet them. Ask people to first approach your dog verbally, then you can let your dog sniff them. Only let others touch your dog if your dog seems comfortable in the situation. Exercise similar caution with other dogs, as well.
Remember to practice patience with your dog. Consider putting yourself in your dog’s shoes to appreciate how their world may now be a more challenging place to navigate. If your dog is losing their eyesight, they may be losing their hearing as well, as well.
Try not to feel annoyed if your dog seems confused or like they’re ignoring you. It’s much more likely that your dog didn’t hear or see what you were asking. With some simple and practical adaptations and a positive outlook, you can maintain the lines of communication and give your vision-impaired senior dog a rich and fulfilling life.