Helping Pets Age Gracefully: Vision Loss

Blind Yellow Labrador RetrieverAs aging progresses, it’s more likely that your pets will experience difficulty with their vision and even blindness. Causes of blindness include glaucoma, cataracts, retinal detachment, serious eye injuries and a variety of other diseases.


If you notice your pet bumping into things around the home, becoming clumsy and disoriented, rubbing his eyes or squinting, or being easily startled or reluctant to move from one spot, these could be signs that your pet’s vision is deteriorating. Loss of vision can also lead your pet to sleep more and act “old.” Schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian to assess your pet’s situation and determine if a referral to an  ophthalmologist is required.


For some types of vision loss, there are treatments that can restore sight. For example, if your dog has cataracts (common in senior pets just like in humans), surgery can be curative. Or, if your pet has glaucoma, it can be managed with medications and other therapies.

Living With Vision Loss

Vision in cats and dogs is quite different from ours. They have better night and peripheral vision than we do, but their ability to focus and see  details is less refined. Also, they do not have well developed color vision. Because they are able to use their heightened senses of hearing and smell, pets can depend less on their vision than humans do. Because of this, loss of vision in cats and dogs is less traumatic compared to loss of vision in people.

Because most causes of vision loss aren’t painful and pets don’t grieve physical losses like we do, they can adapt well to their changing eyesight. For those who do become blind, it takes one to two months for them to adjust to their new circumstances. During this time, your pet will bump into things. That can make it a trying period for both of you, but it will pass with time. A majority of blind pets  memorize the layout of their home and yard and can function normally or near normally with vision deficits. It does take time for them to learn to get around using their other senses. But they can continue to lead happy lives with some help from you to make things a little easier.

How to Help Your Blind Pet

Because memory is used to negotiate the house, make sure your pet can count on things like furniture and water and food bowls to always be in the same place. Encourage your pet to use his other senses to compensate for the vision loss, and coach family and friends on how to approach your pet. Here’s how:

  • Confining your pet to a smaller area initially and then gradually expanding the region can be helpful. This allows your pet to memorize one area at a time and then slowly add to his or her mental map.
  • Keep furniture as consistent as possible. Even small things like putting your chair back under the table after meals can help your pet tremendously. Consider padding the edges of sharp furniture with something like bubble wrap while your pet is learning.
  • Stairs can be one of the more difficult obstacles for a newly blind pet to master. Initially, a barrier (such as a baby gate) in front of the stairs will be necessary to prevent him from falling. Using different scents on the top and bottom stair can alert your pet to location. Treats can be placed on steps for encouragement while you are working with your pet. Be patient during the learning process!
  • Buy noisy toys or toys that have a recognizable odor. Some people also get a companion animal the blind pet can follow around using their hearing and smell.
  • Behavioral changes (aggression, depression, fear) can sometimes be observed with sudden blindness. Avoid stressing or scaring blind pets. Instruct family members to vocalize the pet’s name and approach slowly. A pet’s fear usually passes with time as he learns to adjust to the blindness.

For more ways to help your blind cat or dog feel good about moving around your home and other environments, click here.