While many people feel moved to help special needs animals, adopting a pet with health concerns can present some logistical concerns. Blind dogs, in particular, can be challenging to potential adopters, as many people have never had the pleasure of even knowing a low-vision pup.
But in general, caring for a blind dog isn’t all that much different than caring for a sighted dog. With just a few special considerations, you can make sure that your visually limited dog lives their best and happiest life.
Veterinary Concerns for Blind Dog Care
Additional veterinary bills are one of the chief concerns among those considering special needs pets, but Dr. Jeff Werber, an Emmy Award-winning veterinarian and author based in Los Angeles, says that this isn’t actually an issue for every case.
“There aren’t really any expenses related to the veterinary care of a blind dog, more than those of a seeing dog,” says Dr. Werber.
Dogs who are partially sighted due to disease are the exception. Adopters should take into consideration the cost of managing the underlying disease and, when possible, improving sight.
“If glaucoma is causing vision issues, there may be expenses related to continued medication or surgery,” says Dr. Werber. “It depends on the stage of blindness of the dog and at what point you are adopting the dog. If you adopt a dog who has early cataract disease, you may face related treatment expenses in the future.”
How to Help a Blind Dog With Easy Home Modifications
Blind dogs adjust surprisingly well to moving into a new environment, says Dr. Werber. “You’d be amazed at how rapidly blind dogs adapt to their living space and learn the number of steps from one room to another,” he says.
However, there are some things you can do to make your home easier for a blind dog to navigate, especially during the settling-in phase. Jessica Gore, a Los Angeles-based certified professional dog trainer, offers the following tips:
- When possible, opt for simple furniture layouts with clear pathways from room to room. “If your pup gets stuck in a corner or turned around somehow, is it easy to backtrack, change course or self-correct as needed? An easy floorplan can encourage confidence and exploration,” says Gore.
- Avoid rearranging furniture after bringing your blind dog home. “Dogs are very capable of learning an area, even if blind, but will be under duress if this changes too much or too often,” says Gore.
- “Pup-proofing is always a good idea,” says Gore. “For example, you may want to lock food cupboards, block off the stairs to the basement, cushion any sharp corners, or get a baby gate for a certain area of the house.”
- In the yard, it’s especially important to puppy-proof hazards, such as swimming pools with appropriate fences and locks, says Gore. For added protection, a device such as the Whistle 3 pet GPS tracker and activity monitor can alert you if your dog wanders anywhere he shouldn’t.
As your pup familiarizes himself with his new turf, a blind dog halo and dog harness may be helpful, notes Gore.
- Muffin's Halo For Blind Dogs angel wing bumper prevents dogs from hurting themselves on walls, furniture and other obstacles.
- The Halti dog harness is engineered to “steer” dogs from the chest and shoulders using a dog leash without putting painful pressure on the body.
Introducing a Blind Dog to Kids and Other Pets
When introducing blind dogs to other pets, you can largely rely on the animals’ sixth sense, says Dr. Werber.
“Our pets are usually smarter than we are and adapt to a blind dog really well and pretty quickly,” he notes. If any of your pets appear to become stressed when each other’s company, take a step back and proceed more gradually.
As for kids, it’s wise to take things slow. The quick movements and loud noises of children can be unnerving for any dog, but especially one who is unable to see, says Dr. Werber.
“Although a dog relies on his or her sense of smell far more than on sight, the loss of sight may call for some care in the introduction of a blind dog to kids,” he explains. “Give the dog a little time to identify and catalogue the smell and sound of the kids.”
Until the dog becomes familiar with the sounds each family member makes, children as well as adults should approach the dog slowly, says Dr. Werber. Before trying to pet your dog, call their name, and hold out your hand for sniffing.
Training a Blind Dog
Just like sighted dogs, blind dogs can benefit immensely from lifelong training.
“Mental stimulation and life enrichment are important for all individuals,” says Gore. “Training games and puzzle toys will enhance creativity and awareness, improve behavior and prevent future behavior issues. Just because a pup is visually impaired doesn't mean they aren't learning or capable of picking up new skills!”
Blind dogs excel particularly well at clicker training, notes Gore. For this method, desirable behaviors are marked with a short, distinct clicking sound from a dog clicker as well as plenty of praise.
When training a blind dog, it’s essential to find a professional who practices positive reinforcement and either has experience training blind dogs or is prepared to handle any unique challenges.
“Work with a modern dog trainer who understands progressive, science-based methods and will conduct themselves with a higher ethical standard conducive to working with a special needs learner,” advises Gore.
Enrichment and Play for Blind Dogs
Blind dogs enjoy play and other enrichment activities just as much as their sighted counterparts.
“Blind dogs may be superstars in the areas of scenting and tracking, so that is a great sport to get into with your pup—it provides a wonderful outlet for bonding and life enrichment,” says Gore.
There are also plenty of dog toys for blind dogs. While traditional fetch may not be an option, squeaky dog ball toys can be exciting and engaging.
Try tossing them a distance from your pet, running after them yourself (bonus exercise for you!), and then squeaking them with your foot to let your dog know where they are.
Body awareness exercises, such as obstacle work, can also improve coordination and build confidence, notes Gore.
To help your pup relax after all that playtime, Gore personally recommends reiki for special needs dogs. “Holistic treatments like reiki can provide special soothing to ultra-sensitive individuals, like blind pups.”
“It can help the nervous system decompress and stay ahead of the everyday stress that comes with the challenges of existing in a sightless world,” says Gore.
Adopting a blind dog is one of the most rewarding experiences in pet parenthood. Although these special pets do require some additional considerations, they’re just as happy, fun and sweet as their sighted counterparts.
By: Monica Weymouth
Featured Image: iStock.com/Nicholas Chase
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