Love Is Blind: Adopting a Visually Impaired Cat or Dog
OK, so you’ve made the decision to get a pet from an animal shelter or rescue—FANTASTIC! As long as you are prepared to give that pet a lifetime of love, you can’t go wrong. But how do you choose? There are so many wonderful animals in shelters, and they all deserve homes. You want to make sure you pick the right pet for your family and lifestyle—that is the responsible thing to do. But what if you are visiting a shelter and you see a cat or dog that you connect with...and then your heart sinks when you find out that he or she is blind? Don’t walk away! Blindness does not make a cat or dog unfit as a pet. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
Blind animals make wonderful pets, and opening your heart and home to a blind cat or dog can be an amazing and fulfilling experience for you and your new pet. Broadway Barks already did the research for you, so read on to get some helpful tips about adopting a blind cat or dog. Or, maybe you already have a pet that you have promised to care for no matter what. As your pet ages, if he or she experiences blindness, these tips can help you, too.
Causes of Blindness
There are several causes of blindness in cats and dogs. Some animals are born blind, and some go blind as they age. Just as in humans, cataracts, glaucoma, injury, and illness can all cause loss of vision or complete blindness. When considering the adoption of a blind animal it is important to find out as much about what led to the blindness as you can. Does he/she have any vision remaining? Is the condition that led to the blindness stabilized, or is it worsening? What veterinary follow-up is needed? The answers to these questions may have financial implications that will impact your decision to adopt, which should be the case for the adoption of any animal, blind or not.
Once you’ve made the decision to adopt and bring a blind pet home, there are some steps you can take that will help you and your pet transition smoothly. First, walk through your home and yard looking for obstacles at your pet’s eye-level. Block stairways, cover sharp corners on furniture, pick up toys and other objects from the floor, and trim low-hanging branches on bushes and trees in the yard. Also, select a place in your home that can serve as your pet’s safe place where his/her bed, crate, litter box, toys, and food and water bowls are located. When you first bring your pet home, walk them around on a leash slowly and let them get the lay of the land. You might want to spread some small treats around the house to encourage them to use their keen sense of smell to explore. Essential oils can also be used to teach animals where walls or furniture are located. Some people find great success using carpet runners in the home to create pathways. Likewise, mulch can be used outside to create distinct areas that your dog will recognize. Blind cats will often use their whiskers to help them navigate in the home, or they may even walk with the tip of their tail touching the ground to feel their way around. After a few days, and lots of praise and treats, your blind pet will have a good sense of his/her environment. Then it is very important not to move furniture or leave items in your pet’s path. You will be surprised at how fast a blind cat or dog will adjust to their new surroundings, and memory is a big part of that adjustment. So, once they get settled, keep everything in its place.
The safety guidelines for blind pets are pretty similar to those for sighted pets:
1) Microchip them, and have them wear a collar with their name, your contact information, and with “blind dog” or “blind cat” written on the tag. If they do get lost, the chip and tags will give people who find him/her all the information they need to care for them and reunite you.
2) Consider the use of a GPS collar, especially if you are travelling. These collars are a little bit more expensive, but they can help you geo-locate your pet if you get separated.
3) Always keep your pet on a leash when you are outside of your home or yard. A harness is preferable to a collar when walking on a leash, as it will prevent choking and stress to your pet’s neck and eyes.
4) Avoid startling your pet by gently talking to him/her as you enter a room and before you approach or touch him/her—especially if he/she is sleeping. Introduce new people this way, too. Have them talk first, approach slowly, reach out a hand to let your pet smell, then pet them on their side and avoid the face until they get better acquainted.
5) Blind cats will get disoriented outside, so always keep blind cats indoors. If your cat loves to be outside, train them to walk with a harness and leash, or construct a cat porch so they can enjoy the sensations of being outside without the dangers of being loose.
While blind cats and dogs adjust quickly to new surroundings, you might still want to train your new pet—for their safety and for fun. Blind pets train just as easily as sighted pets do, and they require the same dedication and consistency. Blind dogs are often taught commands such as “watch,” “up,” or “down” to help them navigate steps or curbs during a walk, or getting into and out of the car. What the command words are isn’t as important as your consistency in using them. Once you settle on a command—the word “up” for stepping up for example—make sure you and everyone in the family knows to use the word “up” when approaching a curb or stairs. If someone says “stair” or “climb” instead, your pet will be confused and may be startled or get hurt. When you stay consistent in your commands, your dog will be able to successfully navigate his/her home, and that will build confidence. If you want to train your cat or dog to do “tricks,” voice commands and training “clickers” work well. Consistency and repetition is the key. Blind dogs can do anything sighted dogs can do including agility and obedience training, swimming, fetching, and even begging.
As with any pet, blind cats and dogs need to socialize with people and other animals. Once you’ve welcomed your pet home and they are navigating well, it’s time to introduce them to your friends and family so they can become well adjusted and confident. The key here is to go slowly and watch your pet for signs of stress or fear. Sometimes certain sounds, smells, and surfaces will be scary for a blind animal. If your pet shows stress or fear when encountering a new stimulus, work gradually to alleviate his/her fear or stress using treats, a clicker (if they already have positive associations with it), or praise. When introducing your blind pet to another animal, you can initially separate them using a baby gate or kennel, or introduce them on the leash until they are comfortable with each other. Sighted animals will often recognize that the blind animal can’t see and will sometimes become a seeing-eye friend. If your household has more than one pet, consider placing a bell on each pet’s collar so the blind pet knows when another pet is near. Playtime is an important part of socializing. Remember that toys that make noises, have scents, or contain treats are fun for all pets, but are especially interesting to blind pets. Toys provide stimulation and don’t have to be expensive. A cat will get as much entertainment from a wad of tinfoil or a toilet paper roll as from an expensive store-bought toy, so be creative and have fun with your pet!
Make Adoption the First Option
Pets bring love, joy, and companionship to our lives. They give us so much and they ask for so little in return. It is vitally important that when we want a pet to care for and love we make adoption our first choice. You will always be able to find an animal in a shelter that you can fall in love with. But if you come across a blind cat or dog waiting for a home, don’t just pass them by without at least getting to know them. They could be the love of your life! Blind pets see with their ears, their noses, and their hearts. All they need is food, water, a safe place to sleep, and lots of love, and they will be as happy as any other pet. And when you adopt a blind cat or dog you will be welcoming courage, love, and joy into your life! It’s easy to see the benefits in that.
Contributed by Charlene Sloan