The Visually Impaired Pet

Vision loss in our companion animals is often a disturbing event for the pet owner. Vision loss can be a slow process or one that literally occurs overnight. If vision is lost slowly, the pet will often adapt so well that their owners may be unaware of the change. When vision loss is sudden, owners often notice that their pet is confused, may bump into walls and furniture, or may become fearful or aggressive. Depending on the cause for the vision loss, Owners may notice a brighter reflection to the eye due to retinal thinning and pupil dilation.

There are many causes for vision loss in our pets. Vision is lost at three main locations: the retina, the optic nerve (the extension cord between the eye and the brain), and the brain itself. Conditions that prevent light from reaching the retina will lead to decreased vision or blindness. This could include severe corneal scarring, hyperpigmentation of the cornea, corneal edema, severe inflammation inside the eye (uveitis), or cataract formation. The retina itself can be damaged by glaucoma or affected with several inflammatory or degenerative conditions. The optic nerve is also affected by glaucoma, systemic disease, inflammation, neoplasia, and trauma.

Pets are extremely good at adapting to their loss of vision. They have a heightened sense of smell as well as hearing that quickly take the place of vision. They do not experience the depression or other difficulties that a human with vision loss would face. After all, they have you to take care of them! The speed at which vision is lost often dictates the time it takes for the pet to adapt to their environment. Some adapt immediately while others adapt over several months. All pets with vision loss maintain an excellent quality of life.

The following are guidelines to help you and your pet adjust to the visual impairment:

  • Certainly, several precautions should be taken to protect your pet. Do not leave your pet unattended around swimming pools, roads, or other dangers.
  • Allow your pet to navigate around the house on their own. Resist the urge to pick them up and move them as they are trying to memorize the environment – pets have excellent memories. Pets will find their food and water bowls consistently if you leave them in the same place. Along the same lines, try to avoid changing the furniture frequently.
  • Bells can be placed on the collars of other pets so that the visually impaired pet is aware of their presence.
  • If a doggie door is present, try placing a textured mat on either side of the door (astroturf, rubber, etc). That way your pet will know that when they are on the mat they are in front of the doggie door. This will also help them get back inside from the yard.
  • Encourage your pet to play. If they love to pay with tennis balls, buy a ball that makes lots of noise or has a strong scent.
  • Sometimes other pets in the household will serve as companions to the visually impaired pet- effectively becoming guide dogs
  • Avoid stressing your pet by instructing family members to talk to your pet before approaching so as not to surprise them
  • Consider fitting your pet for a harness. This will make them feel more secure on walks and gives more points of contact for you to direct them. Certainly it helps if you take your pet on the same route each day.
  • Continue to monitor the eyes for redness, squinting, discharge, or cloudiness. Injuries to the eye or conditions such as uveitis and glaucoma can develop. These conditions are painful and require treatment by a veterinarian.
  • Most importantly, continue to show your pet lots of love and support.

Once again, it cannot be overstated that visually impaired or blind pets continue to lead a happy, healthy, fun filled life and will continue to be special family members for many years. At South Texas Veterinary Ophthalmology, we want to do everything in our power to keep your pet happy and comfortable. Please let us know if there is any way we can help you or your pet.