Blindness in Cats and Dogs
It’s hard not to feel sorry for a blind pet. However, this worry is mostly our human feelings taking over and imagining what it would be like for us (this sentiment is called anthropomorphism!) Fortunately, pets live in the “now” rather than dwelling on the past. They learn to adapt incredibly quickly and use their other acute senses to compensate for their blindness. Keep reading to learn about the causes of blindness in cats and dogs and what you can do to help your pet adapt.
How can I tell if my pet is blind?
Because pets adapt so well to being blind, it can be quite a challenge to tell what they can (and cannot) see. Typically, pets that lose their eyesight gradually (usually due to slowly arising conditions like cataracts, or Progressive Retinal Atrophy) will be adapting to lower and lower levels of vision and make a fairly smooth transition to blindness. These pets will have a mental map of their surroundings and be able to navigate their environment fairly well. Sometimes the first indication that something is wrong is when they bump into furniture that has been recently moved.
Pets that have a quick transition to blindness can show more obvious signs such as bumping into things, reluctance to walk, and with cats, an inability to judge distance and refusal to jump. More subtle signs include loss of confidence and, sadly, even aggression towards other pets or people if they’re startled.
What causes blindness in pets?
Light enters through the surface of the eye (cornea), gets passed through the clear lens, and then is focused upon the retina(nerve tissue at the back of the eye). Any disease that affects the clarity of these structures potentially causes loss of vision. Diseases that affect both eyes are most likely to cause complete blindness.
The usually clear corneacan become opaque due to conditions causing heavy pigment deposits. This is most common in short-nosed dogs such as pugs, or in dogs that suffer from chronic dry-eye that has been left untreated.
When the lensbecomes cloudy, light cannot travel through it, and the eye will often appear white or “cloudy”. This opacity is called a cataract. There are many causes of cataracts. They’re hereditary in some dog and cat breeds but also caused by diabetes in dogs, or certain infections or inflammatory conditions in cats.
The retina can be affected by diseases such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). This strikes older dogs and is hereditary in breeds such as the Labrador and Poodle. A different form of hereditary degeneration occurs in the Siamese cat. Other diseases of the retina include glaucoma, SARDS (Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration), and in cats, retinal hemorrhage caused by hypertension (high blood pressure).
Diseases of the braincan also cause blindness by impairing optic nerve transmission, or the processing of vision in the optic cortex of the brain.
Can my pet’s blindness be cured?
In certain circumstances but certainly not all, blindness can be treated.
Cataracts can be removed via surgery if your pet is considered a suitable candidate. This is more common in dogs and rarely carried out in cats. The surgery is costly in terms of finances and in time. It requires a considerable commitment to postoperative care.
Retinal hemorrhage in cats can improve with treatment for hypertension, but less than 50% can regain some vision if treated.
Sadly, conditions such as PRA, SARDS, and many forms of glaucoma are irreversible.
How can I help my blind pet?
Most pets will have a mental map of their living area. It may help to keep them restricted to a smaller area until they’re completely familiar with it, then extend their territory over time.
- Keep food, water, and litter tray in the same place. A water fountain is an excellent idea as your pet will hear it.
- Avoid moving the furniture
- Consider keeping the TV or radio on as they will emit noise and help your pet orientate themselves
- Consider using different scents in different zones of the house. These can be subtle but will help your pet to know where they are.
- You can attach a bell to collars of other pets in the household so your blind pet knows where they are. If there is a visual dog, they will often be a great comfort and guide to the blind dog or cat.
- On dog walks, beware of hazards such as low hanging branches and other dogs walking towards them - they won’t be aware of them until they get much closer.
- Using Feliway or Adaptil (pheromone) diffusers in the house can provide a calming environment.
- Talk to your pet often so they know where you are.
It’s very important to visit your vet, or veterinary ophthalmologist if you suspect your pet may be losing their vision. They will help make a diagnosis and determine any treatment options.
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