When your senior dog is going blind the thought of their having to adjust to life without vision can be overwhelming.
Surprisingly, though, most senior dogs are much more adaptable than people think and are able to cope with sight loss much better than expected.
Of course, there are going to be exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, a senior dog who gradually loses their sight while their home and family life remains the same is going to adjust quite well to this new change.
With that said, however, if you suspect that your senior pup is losing their sight, there are some things that you can do to make their life easier…
8 Things You Can Do to Make Life Easier For Them When Your Senior Dog is Going Blind
1. Maintain Your Regular Routine.
Dogs thrive on routine. This regular routine is now shifting due to their vision loss, so it’s important that the rest of their life maintains the stability and structure they are used to. If you must make changes to their routine for their safety, make sure to introduce changes slowly and positively.
2. Don’t Redecorate or Rearrange Your Furniture
Just like humans, dogs have a mental picture of their environment inscribed into their memory. (This is how we can go from one place to another without really thinking about how we got there!) When your senior dog is going blind they become more dependent on this mental layout to navigate their surroundings. If you redecorate or rearrange the furniture in your home, you are changing the physical map while your dog’s mental map remains the same. While eventually, your dog can adjust to changes like this, they do cause a lot of frustration and unease for your newly sight-impaired senior dog.
3. Create “Checkpoints” in Significant Areas of the Home
While your dog has a mental map of your home, they don’t necessarily have the exact location of things pinned down. Have you ever gone downstairs in the dark and anticipated a stair that wasn’t there? It’s the same concept. You can help when your senior dog is going blind by setting tactile checkpoints throughout the house to let them know of upcoming changes. For example, you may set a rubber mat at the top and bottom of the stairs so that your dog is prepared for the upcoming stairway. You may place a shaggy mat by the entrance and exit points of the home so your dog recognizes where to go when they want to go out.
Some dog parents of blind dogs use scented dots (you can buy them here) to mark places throughout the home, but for a senior dog that is going blind, a tactile mat is more practical since it also provides traction on tile or hardwood floors.
4. Make Communication Easier For Your Blind Dog
When your senior dog is going blind, they may experience difficulty communicating with you in the same way that they used to. For example, your dog who has always found you and nudged your elbow to let you know that they need to go out may have difficulty finding you in time to go out until they adjust to life without sight.
Providing your dog with new tools for communication can help to make this transition to sightlessness easier. These tools may include bells to hang on the front door to alert you to “potty cues” or a pressable “doorbell” chime to alert you to “pay attention”.
5. Use Safeguards Just in Case
Using tactile checkpoints is helpful in orienting your senior dog with sight loss to their position in the home, but it may not be enough if your dog is unsteady on their feet. If your senior dog is going blind and unsteady on their feet, I recommend using sturdy baby gates in areas that could be perilous (like the top of the stairs). This gate with a walkthrough door is a good option for regular width stairways so you don’t have to hop over or remove the gate each time you need to go up or downstairs. If you have a wider stairway, try this gate instead.
6. Be Mindful of Your Sight-Impaired Dog’s Needs
Keep in mind that as your dog adjusts to life with diminishing sight, you too will need to make some minor adjustments to your habits. Making these adjustments will simply make life easier for your pup. Things like walking more heavily on the floor so that your dog can feel you approaching, announcing yourself when you walk into a room so that you are easy to find and don’t startle them, and maintaining good lighting in rooms when your dog has failing but not failed sight.
7. Encourage Independence
While you should be mindful of your senior dog’s needs during this time, it’s also important to encourage them to be independent. You can do this with some of the tools already listed above as well as by looking into tools specifically for sight-impaired dogs like the Halo Vest and the BlindSight sonar collar.
8. Make Others Aware of Your Dog’s Needs
When your senior dog is going blind you can also help your pup by making others aware of their needs so that they approach with care or don’t approach at all. A special blind dog collar tag can be helpful if your dog should get lost, a blind dog coat can easily let others know of your dog’s needs, a blind dog harness provides the same benefit with less coverage, a blind dog collar and leash set does the same but is a better choice for dogs who don’t work well with harnesses, or you can opt for only the blind dog collar or the blind dog leash, or you can invest in a blind dog bandana. If your newly blind dog does not like to be approached opt instead for the dog needs space collar and leash set or, if you can find it, the please don’t approach dog collar/harness/bandana (but from what I can find, it seems like this set may have been replaced with a “Caution” series. I don’t recommend using this set because it tends to induce fear.)
If Your Senior Dog is Losing Their Sight and Having Trouble Adjusting…
Is your senior dog having trouble adjusting to life while losing their sight? Although most senior dogs take sight degeneration in their stride, some dogs experience more difficulty adjusting than others. In particular, dogs that have high levels of anxiety, symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction, or who have only recently settled into their home, tend to have more problems than others. If your pup is having difficulty adjusting to the new changes in their life make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss how you might better help them to adjust.