A blind dog comes with extra care needs that might not be obvious to all owners. Owners need to ‘dog-proof’ their homes to keep their dog safe. But they also need to adapt training methods and the way they interact with their dog.
Whether you’ve adopted a blind dog, or you suspect your dog is losing his sight as he ages, learning how to help a blind dog is important. So read on for some tips that will help you keep your dog happy and comfortable.
Blind Dog Contents
- Which dog breeds are most likely to go blind?
- How to tell if your dog is losing his sight
- How to help a blind dog
- Blind dog social needs
- Training blind dogs
- Playing with a blind dog
- Exercising dogs that can’t see
- Do blind dogs cost more?
- Can blind dogs be happy?
Blind dog care doesn’t need to be complicated. Read on to find out more about exactly how you should adapt your lifestyle to help your pup.
Which Dog Breeds Are Most Likely to go Blind?
Eye problems affect a lot of dog breeds. And some of these problems can progress to blindness. It’s important to choose reputable breeders to ensure your dog is as healthy as possible. Choose breeders that health test parents and only breed from dogs with no known issues.
A 2005 study suggested that cataracts in dogs was a leading cause of blindness.
Some breeds that may suffer from hereditary cataracts include:
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- Boston Terriers
- Old English Sheepdogs
- and Afghan Hounds.
Other Causes of Blindness
Cataracts isn’t the only eye problem that can lead to blindness in dogs. Other problems to watch out for include PRA (progressive retinal atrophy), glaucoma, SARDS (suddenly acquired retinal degeneration), eye injuries, corneal ulcers, retinal detachment, and more. Speak to your vet if you’re worried that any of these problems may be affecting your dog.
Unfortunately, blindness in dogs has many causes, and can affect any breed. So, whatever the cause, let’s move on to find out how to deal with this problem.
How to Tell if your Dog is Going Blind
There are a few signs and symptoms to watch out for if you suspect that your dog is going blind. Some are more obvious than others. Here are a few signs your dog is going blind:
- Bumping into walls and furniture
- Trouble finding food, water, or toys
- Less eye contact
- Reluctance when jumping off or onto things
- Increased anxiety
- Reduced confidence in normal situations
- Increased clinginess
- Possible aggression
- Being startled more easily.
Dogs adapt quickly, so signs that they are going blind might be quite subtle. Keep a close eye on your dog’s behavior as he ages if you’re concerned about his sight.
Blind Dog Eyes
Your dog’s eyes might be an easier giveaway that he is struggling with his sight. It is common for blind dogs to have a cloudy sheen over their eyes, especially if they are suffering from cataracts. Injuries on your dog’s eyes can also be visible, such as scratched or discoloration. You may also notice thick or excess discharge. Make sure to wash your hands and handle your dog gently if you are trying to examine his eyes.
How to Help a Blind Dog
Whether your dog is only just starting to lose his sight, or whether he has been blind for a while, there are some simple changes you can make to your lifestyle to make things easier for him. The main potential problems blind dogs face include unexpected objects or hazards, losing track of where they are, finding food and water, and becoming startled by people or other animals. It’s really easy to solve these problems for your dog. So let’s take a look at each one in a little more depth.
Safety in the Home
Taking steps to make sure your dog is safe in your home will depend a little on whether your dog has lost his sight gradually as he ages, or whether you brought home a blind dog. If your dog has lost his sight part way through his life, he is likely to know the layout of your home pretty well. But, if you’re bringing home a blind dog, you will need to show him around. One great way to do this is walk him through the layout of your home on a leash. Show him key spots like his bed, food, and water.
Dog-Proof the Home
Dogs that can’t see can be easily hurt by unexpected falls and sharp or protruding objects. These are two hazards you need to deal with straight away. You can invest in baby gates or dog gates to put across stairways. This physical barrier will stop your dog from falling down large drops and hurting himself.
You should remove any protruding items that your dog could walk into where possible, and look out for any sharp corners. Your dog can easily injure himself on sharp corners. You can buy corner protectors to soften these edges. It may help to go round every part of your home at your dog’s level to find everything your dog could hurt himself on. And, this is extended to your yard. Make sure there are no gaps in your fence, no plants or tools that could hurt your dog, and no unexpected drops or holes in the ground that he could fall down.
Blind Dog Halo
A blind dog Halo will attach on to your dog’s collar or harness. It is a circular ring that is designed to bump into things before your dog does. Your dog can feel this pressure as the halo is pushed, and knows to walk in a different direction. This product was designed to give blind dogs the confidence they may have lost when exploring unfamiliar places. So, your dog may not need one in the home. But it can be a great tool to use until your dog knows his way around, or when going somewhere new.
Blind Dog Safe Zone
Another thing that is important when dog-proofing your home is to choose an area that is your blind dog’s “safe zone”. This might be a dog pen with his bed, crate, food and water. These safe zones will be somewhere familiar and comfortable for your dog to retreat to if he ever needs a break. A safe zone can be a great retreat to minimize any anxiety your blind dog may experience if he loses his sight.
If your dog ever appears lost and confused around the house, it’s a great idea to take them back to their safe zone.
Physical and Audible Cues
Even though your dog has lost his sight, he still has some other great senses that he can use. To avoid startling him, you can make the most of these cues. For instance, attach a bell to the collars of any other pets, and even to yourself. Your blind dog will hear you as you are moving, and soon recognize that the bell means someone else is with him!
You can use textured rugs and floors throughout the house too. This will help your dog ‘feel’ where he is. For instance, cool tiles mean he’s in the kitchen, but the big fluffy rug means he’s in the lounge!
Food and Water
Another really important consideration is making sure your dog knows where his food and water is. You could place these in his ‘safe zone’, so he knows where to go if he ever needs a drink.
Wherever you put them, don’t move them around. Keep them in the same location so your blind dog never gets confused, and can always find them. Fountain style water bowls are another great idea. These have constantly moving water, so your dog can hear when he is by his water bowl.
Importance of Routine
We need to stress the importance of routine when dog-proofing your home. Keeping things tidy will make sure there are no unexpected hazards that your dog could trip over or run into. Constantly experiencing new obstacles where he doesn’t expect them can knock your blind dog’s confidence and increase anxiety.
Make sure you don’t move around the furniture either unless you absolutely have to. Your dog will quickly create a mental map of your home, and moving things around will throw this into confusion. He may then bump into things that weren’t originally there, and lose confidence moving around your home.
Blind Dog Social Needs
Just because your dog has lost his sight doesn’t mean his social needs are reduced in any way. You can’t communicate with your dog the same way as you might with a seeing-dog, so make the most of your voice! Speak to your dog lots, and if he enjoys being petted, make sure to do this too. But don’t startle him! Talking to your dog is a great way to bond with him, and to keep him aware that he isn’t alone.
Companions and Other Noise
Blind dogs can really benefit from having another dog around, especially if they are raised together. Not only will they play together, but your blind dog will get that much needed companionship. You can use things like your TV and radio too. Leaving them on can make your dog feel less alone, especially if you ever need to leave him in the house for short periods.
Training a Blind Dog
Can you train a blind dog? Absolutely! You just need to adapt things to make the most of their other senses. This can involve using noise cues, or using scents. Food is a great positive reinforcer when training dogs that can’t see. Just make sure to introduce new commands slowly to avoid any confusion.
Once you’ve mastered basics, you can start to show your dog some ‘safety’ cues. For instance, teach your dog ‘left’ and ‘right’, step up and down, wait and go, so you can warn him if he is coming up to any unexpected obstacles. Training is also a great way to bond and to give your blind dog some exercise. Just because he can’t see doesn’t mean he’s any less capable.
Playing with a Blind Dog
Just like training, playing with your blind dog every day is very important! It’s another way to bond with your dog, and provide a little exercise. Nowadays you can even buy specific toys for blind dogs. These are often interactive toys with fun noises and textures for your dog to explore.
You can enjoy games like hide and seek or fetch by making the most of your dog’s sense of smell. Just put a pet-friendly scent on a ball or toy, or hide some strong smelling treats inside one, and hide or throw it! Games like hide and seek are fun and mentally stimulating for your dog, just make sure there are no hazards that he could bump into or fall down. Call out to him so he can search for you, and give him plenty of praise when he finds you.
Play games like fetch in a safe hazard-free area where your dog feels comfortable to walk or run, and use your voice or another noise to show your dog where to bring the toy back to!
Exercising a Blind Dog
We’ve touched on exercise through training and play briefly, but most dogs need more than they can get through this. Blind dogs can still be taken on daily walks. If you’ve trained certain safety cues and got your dog halo, walking your dog will be easier than ever! Keep them on a leash so they can’t run into any unexpected hazards, or into any other dogs that might not be friendly.
It’s a good idea to try and warn any other people you encounter that your dog can’t see. This way you can control their interactions, and make sure no one or their animals startle your dog.
Do Blind Dogs Cost More?
Most dogs that can’t see will cost no more than any other dog. But, you will need to consider the cost of adapting your lifestyle to make things comfortable for them. So, the cost of the products we have mentioned above to dog-proof your home. Most of these are relatively cheap, but can add up if you’re buying them all at once. The cost of blind dogs can be a little more if they have regular medical bills, or if they need surgery. But, this will depend on what caused them to lose their sight.
If you’re deciding to adopt a blind dog, this is something you can discuss with the rescue center before committing.
Can Blind Dogs be Happy?
Of course blind dogs can be as happy as any other dog! Some may suffer from anxiety or a loss of confidence if they lose their sight. But you can easily help them become comfortable and confident in their homes with you.
Some people might ask: is it cruel to keep a blind dog? But keeping a blind dog can be as rewarding as any other dog, for both you and the dog. They are capable of leading lives just as fulfilling as a seeing dog. They just need a little bit more help!
Blind Dog Summary
So, there are a few lifestyle adjustments you’ll need to make if your dog is losing his sight, or if you’re choosing to bring home a blind dog. But, dogs with no sight are as capable as any other dog, especially when you learn to make the most of their other senses.
Do you have a blind dog at home? We would love to hear about your experiences with dogs that have lost their sight. Do you have any tips for their care, or any fun games that your pup loves?
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References and Resources
- Orton, K. ‘Advice for Owners of a Blind Dog’, Veterinary Nursing Journal (2020)
- Adkins, E. & Hendrix, D. ‘Cataract Evaluation and Treatment in Dogs’, Medicine (2005)
- Chester, Z. & Clark, W. ‘Coping with Blindness: A Survey of 50 Blind Dogs’, The Veterinary Record (1988)
- Barnett, K. ‘Hereditary Cataract in the Dog’, Journal of Small Animal Practice (1978)
- Moore, D. ‘Cataracts and Cataract Surgery in the Dog’, Veterinary Nursing Journal (2011)
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website
Our dog was diagnosed with PRA at 5 years of age , she lost her sight gradually and had both eyes removed due to glaucoma, first one at 9 years and second at 10 years. She is now 13.5 years old, still going strong and loves her daily walks, mostly off the lead but with us keeping a close eye on her.
She remains happy and confident, she knows where she is and has adapted well to a new home.
Watching her trot along and sniffing out everything on her walk is one of life’s great pleasures. Whilst I wish she could still see, she has a great life and knows exactly how to take us to the treat store, visitors are still amazed that she takes them by the hand and leads them to the treat cupboard.
Her other senses make up for her lack of vision , she remains a happy and active dog.
Blind dogs are still dogs! My lab was born deaf and I never thought that he is unique or something like that. We trained him like a normal dog – he understands everything we tell him. So please don’t be afraid to have a blind dog 🙂
Blind Dog comments:
Myra is a registered yellow Lab. In preparing to have her bred, she went through a Blood Test. It came back “Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Breeding NOT Recommended. This report explained years of strange behaviours ie. mis-steps on stairs. Fortunately, as it turned out, from early puppy months, when her eyesight was good, she was trained basic obedience with signals from Voice, hand signals and whistle commands. At 8 years of age, she obviously only does voice and whistle.
Her NOSE – KNOWS, her paws FEEL, Her EARS – Hear! I’ve been on new trails through the forest, up steep ridges, across streams, covering 2 – 3 miles / 6 km. and for the most part she will lead the way – nose to the ground, paws feeling around, ears listening for my voice or whistle. On familiar trails, ie. daily walk routes, Myra definately leads the way in and back. Hearing people coming along the trail, she’ll rush ahead of me, to say HELLO to the human walkers. / sniff bumbs of other dogs. Around the house and on morning walks we do have a Sniff – Find game. I place biscuits on different logs / around the house and on command, she then heads off to get her treats. Waiting for the ferry to arrive, we continue to play the Sit / stay come activity. These are done with whistle tweets. One tweet is come, 2 is sit – stay. I do blow the whistle many times while she runs to me (50 m / 150 feet away), The a voice command of over / sit and she gets her biscuit.
On our forest to seashore explorations, they are NOT physical workouts, hearts pounding! NOPE! they are more slow motion, meditative hour long sessions. I get to see life change day by day, I listen to the different sounds waves make, fragrances whaft into my nose for discovery, I get to feel the wind or sun on my skin – so many thanks to MYRA = sight isn’t everything in life! Vision is more than seeing!