How do you know if your dog is going blind? That seems like a simple question, but it isn’t. While people are highly visual, dogs are excellent at using their other senses to compensate for a loss of vision.
The classic waving your hand in front of your dog’s eyes to test his vision reaction won’t work because dogs naturally react to moving air as well as any light change. You need to be an astute observer to notice early signs of blindness in dogs. You might notice that your dog is hesitant going from a lighted room into a dark one or doesn’t venture beyond the light in the yard at night.
The most common way people discover a dog is blind is when they rearrange the furniture or move deck chairs out in the yard and the dog blunders into them. Up until then, your dog was trotting freely through the house and even heading straight out to his favorite tree in the yard to pee. You wouldn’t think blindness, based on that. What happened, however, is that your dog has mental maps and scent trails that he uses to guide him. By moving things, you interfered with that map.
What can you do when your dog goes blind or has major vision loss? Start by NOT moving furniture inside or outside, as it interferes with his mental maps. Leave his bowls and beds in place. Until your dog is totally blind, you can flick lights on and off to help him get in from the yard at night.
Remember, his hearing is still working. Start using sounds to guide as soon as you suspect your dog is losing his sight. Repeated short whistles or chirps can help guide him back to you outside. Stay in one place when you do this so he can orient.
When walking, keep light tension on his leash or have him heel closely so he is touching your leg. If you have another dog (or cat, in some cases), the other pet will often act as a guide. Watch for your dog walking with his nose by another pet’s tail. Provide scent games and tracks to help keep your active dog and mentally stimulated.
If you suspect your dog is going blind, see your veterinarian. The sooner the better. Diseases like diabetes and cataracts can affect his vision and may be treatable.
A dog who has gone blind can live a full, happy life, if we just work with the senses he has left, especially hearing and scent, and don’t move things around. Animals accept what life throws at them, so as long as your dog knows where things are—especially food, water, and his bed—he is happy just to still be with you.