How to Tell if Your Dog is Going Blind

Like humans, as dogs age parts and functions of their bodies will start to slow down or even stop working altogether. One of the most common signs of aging in dogs is that they start to lose their eyesight or even go completely blind.

Losing eyesight, though, doesn’t mean your dog is necessarily in any pain or is not enjoying life anymore and there are so many ways you can help them when they can’t see anymore to still enjoy walks, the park and even playing with other dogs.

Blind Dog

Unfortunately, dogs can’t speak to tell us when they can’t see as well anymore so we need to know what signs to look for to try and determine if they are losing their sight. Here’s a few ways of trying to figure out if your dog is going blind, and how you can help them to make sure they still have the best quality of life possible.

What causes vision loss among dogs?

Well, there isn’t just one thing that causes vision loss in a dog. One of the most common cause for a dog to lose his vision, though, is cataract. This is when the lens of the eye is clouded over. Often times cataracts will be accompanied by other diseases – like diabetes.

Another cause could be high blood pressure – yes, even dogs can get high blood pressure as they age. This illness can cause a number of infections in the eye or even retinal detachment, and left untreated they can eventually lead to completely blindness.

In other cases, some dogs have been found to have tumors growing behind or around their eyes and the pressure of the tumor on their eyes causes the loss of vision. Each dog’s vision loss will be unique, and a condition in one dog may not have the same symptoms as another.

Symptoms a dog is going blind

Sometimes the signs that your dog is losing vision can be very, very obvious – like bumping into walls or furniture, or maybe being unable to locate their favorite toys to play with. In other cases, the signs may be incredibly slow to appear and be much more subtle that you wouldn’t piece them together as part of vision loss.

Subtle signs would include a hesitancy to jump on and off of furniture, becoming much more clingy towards you (or a favorite family member), or even becoming slightly aggressive.

Blind dogs tent to stick to their owners
Blind dogs tent to stick to their owners

The change in temperament isn’t necessarily because their personality is changing, but more because your dog can’t see as well and he is likely feeling vulnerable when he doesn’t know what’s going so he’s reacting differently than he normally would.

What should you do if you notice these symptoms?

Typically, dogs start to go blind in their senior years although that doesn’t mean young dogs don’t also lose their vision sometimes. You may not notice some of these symptoms until you take your dog to a new environment or change the furniture around in your home and your dog doesn’t know what to do.

If this happens, make an appointment with your veterinarian right away. While it’s important to make sure your dog has regular check ups for vaccines and general health, as they get older it’s more important to make sure their veterinarian sees them every 6 – 9 months.

With regularly scheduled appointments, a vet will know what to look for so that any kind of potential vision loss is detected as early as possible.

How to Accommodate a Dog with Vision Loss

If your dog is starting to lose his vision it doesn’t mean he can’t still really enjoy life. Many dogs with little to no sight still get incredibly excited to go for walks, visit with family and even have play dates with other dogs. Dogs are incredibly adaptable to different environments.

As dogs lose their vision, being in a familiar place – like your home – regularly will help them adjust to what to expect without being able to see it. Here are some tips for helping a dog with little to no vision

Keep the floor clear

Your dog will make a kind of mental map of where things are in the house, and if items like shoes or backpacks are constantly being dropped in the hallway (or other high traffic areas) this will confuse your dog and he could trip over the obstacles.

An uncluttered floor will help a blind dog find his way around
An uncluttered floor will help a blind dog find his way around

If you’re able to, make sure you and your family members keep items off the floor so your dog doesn’t get confused this can really help them with navigation.

Don’t rearrange your home

Sometimes rearranging your home can make it look completely different without buying new furniture, but for a dog who can’t see this makes everyday navigation very difficult.

Even though your dog cannot see where furniture is, they will explore by walking around and as they gently bump into things they will learn where they can and can’t walk, where the couch is and where various walls are. If you can avoid it, don’t rearrange your home.

Keep their food in the same place

Sometimes families will be cleaning up and will move the dog’s water and food dishes to another area without even thinking about it as they wash the floors. For a blind dog, this can be incredibly confusing. Make sure you keep their comfort items like the food dish, water dish, favorite bed and blankets in the same location so that they can easily find them based on the mental map they have of your home.

Dog Eating

Interestingly enough, your dog may treat his water and food dishes as the anchor for navigating everything else – that is, he might determine how to get to couch to snuggle with you based on the location of his food dish. Moving these will cause confusion.

If, for any reason, you need to redecorate your home or need to move some things around then you can do a couple things to help your dog become reacquainted with the layout and he will form a new mental map.

Walk around on a leash

Doing this will give your dog security – in that you’re there with him so he knows he is safe – and keeping him on the leash will make sure he’s safe while he’s learning where the new obstacles are.

Increase verbal cues

Just because your dog is blind, doesn’t mean he can’t hear you. As he’s exploring the new layout of your home, you can use verbal cues like “stop”, “right”, “left” or whatever commands you’ve trained your dog to understand. These will help your dog to understand where the limitations are now.

Safety around the house

We do our very best to keep our dogs happy and healthy, no matter what happens, but adjusting to a dog with vision impairment can be difficult. There are a few things you can do around your home, though, to make the adjustment easier on both you and your dog as your dog is likely scared and  frustrated since they used to be able to see the world around them.

Textured mats

These are really neat tools to helping teach your dog where safety and limits are around the house. For example, place one kind of textured mat at the top of a flight of stairs so you dog knows when they feel this particular mat they’re very close to stairs and should be careful.

You can also place a different texture at the bottom of the stairs so your dog knows they have reached the bottom and don’t need to anticipate another step.

Scent use

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, even when they have complete vision. Take advantage of this to help them learn to navigate a world without vision. You can do things like use a little bit of vanilla or lavender essential oils (only if they’re deemed safe for pets, of course) on toys or favorite blankets so that they can easily recognize an item.

Speak to your dog

Since a blind dog cannot see a person approaching them, being touched out of nowhere can really scare them and can cause them to be a little aggressive or nip in some cases. Before you touch them, speak to them in a clear and calm voice to let them know you’re there and you’re around them.

If you approach them with heavier than normal footsteps this can also help as the vibrations in the ground can let them know someone is approaching.

Summing it up

The best thing you can have when working with a dog losing vision is patience. Your dog has been able to see the world around him for all his life, and all of a sudden he’s in the dark and doesn’t always know what’s going on around him.

old blind dog

Being patient and comforting can help him adjust and navigate his new world with confidence. He is likely scared and frustrated, but with time he will adjust well and he’ll be back to loving life in no time.

Also, don’t be surprised if his sense of smell kicks into over drive (even more than normal) as now that he doesn’t have one of his senses his others may be working overtime to help him process the world around him.