Q: My 14 year old mix pug was diagnosed a diabetic about 6 months ago. My vet and I have been working hard on regulating him; it’s been somewhat hard since he may also have Cushing’s. Anyway, about 5 weeks ago Tank went almost totally blind. I have heard lots of great stories about dogs born blind and how great they do but not too many about older dogs. Do you have any ideas about how to help an old man like Tank adjust? It would also be helpful for some tips on helping him as an owner. I am lucky since I have a house with a fenced in yard but we moved in only about 2 weeks before he went blind. I also have two other 14 year old dogs so it is hard sometimes watching out for Tank and also keeping up with the other two.
A: Watching a beloved pet go blind can be extremely difficult but many dogs do adjust to this new way of life. It appears that you and your veterinarian are working to regulate his diabetes. I would recommend that you also make an appointment to see a veterinary ophthalmologist to try to determine if there is anything that can be done to help your dog’s vision.
There are many resources available that have wonderful ideas on helping a blind dog adapt. One of the most important things is to keep your dog’s environment as consistent and predictable as possible. Knowing what to expect can decrease some of the anxiety a newly blind dog may have. You may want to use one or a couple of rooms that your dog feels secure in. A crate can also be used to provide him with a safe area to retreat to. Try to “baby proof” by getting down to his level and looking for things he may trip on or bump in to. You may want to pad the edges of tables and other furniture he may bump in to. Baby gates are wonderful to protect him from less safe areas or from falling on the stairs.
You may want to use a harness to walk him around the yard slowly so he can use his other senses to investigate and try to learn the environment. Supervision is important. You want to keep furniture, beds, food, and water in the same place. The use of a water fountain may help him to more easily find the water because of the noise that it makes. You can use bells on your other dogs’ collars as well as on your shoes so that Tank can hear who is coming and will be less likely to be startled.
There are many other recommendations and you will learn which works best for you and Tank. Below I will have listed a few web resources and books that you should find very helpful. I know that it can be difficult but with time and work many blind dogs (even older ones) can lead happy lives.
Living with Blind Dogs written by Caroline Levine
www.acvo.com (website for the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists) go to the public resources section and see related websites