Published Wednesday, November 1, 2014

November is a month when we all give thanks and connect with our families. During this time of reflection and gratitude, one of the things we should include this year is our gift of vision – of experiencing the awesome sense of depth, color, contrast, and perspective into this universe that our beautiful eyes provide. We give thanks for our health, our family, good food in our bellies, but what about our vision?.

For most of us, getting around, whether it be on foot, by car, plane, or public transportation, gives us little trouble, and we take that for granted. For visually impaired people, movement, travel, work, and life can be very difficult. The limited travel assistance and assurance that a white cane provides for blind people, is often very frustrating and embarrassing. This embarrassment and anxiety may lead to low self confidence, introversion, and results in more time spent safely at home, rather than confidently experiencing all that the world can offer to someone with vision. For those visually impaired Texans who have the assistance of a seeingeye guide dog, they are the lucky few whom get to experience freedom, mobility and independence on a whole new level. Consider supporting Guide Dogs of Texas and helping a blind individual get the freedom they need and deserve. Guide dogs of Texas is celebrating 25 years and is based right here in good ole San Antonio! For more information, please visit

But what happens when our best four-legged friends lose their vision? When it comes to our canine and feline family members, vision is also a luxury, but much less of a necessity.

Yes, it is true that vision gives our pets the ability to safely navigate stairs, walk around pools and furniture, find favorite resting spots, see and catch tennis balls and avoid on-coming cars. However, you would be shocked at what dogs can do with limited or no vision at all. Some pets are so good at adapting to vision loss that owners don’t realize their pet is visually impaired until they are put into an unfamiliar environment. Pets have a heightened sense of smell and hearing that quickly takes the place for vision. Dogs do not experience the mental anguish that humans face when going blind.

For example, my family has two dogs – both with poor vision and close to blindness. Our newest little puppy, Rocco Chocolate-Chip, can only see shapes and shadows, but he is an inquisitive puppy and does not know any better. With the attention he receives from me, my wife and children, he is very happy to be alive and part of our family. Even at his young age of 11-weeks, you can already see him adjusting to his disabled vision by using his tiny cute noise and ears to help compensate and find his way around the home.

It is my opinion that the speed at which vision loss occurs, along with the age of onset and extentin our pets often dictates the time needed for them to adapt to poor or absent vision. Some dogs adapt immediately (Rocco), while other dogs need a few months. Their adaptive abilities also depend on their owners investment in training. Owners that see this change as simply another obstacle of life to negotiate (think positively) and train dogs to follow auditory and olfactory cues and still play games and take long walks, will find their pet’s quality of life has not changed much, but their bond may be stronger than ever. After all, they still have you to spoil them!

Vision loss in our companion animals is often a disturbing event for pet owners, but my experience as a veterinary ophthalmologist is that there are great resources out there to help you wrap your mind around this challenge. Books such as Living with Blind Pets and Blind Devotion are good starters. Please call STVO if you need help and visit our web site at for additional tips and resources under the Client Resources page.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays from South Texas Veterinary Ophthalmology!