Helping Your Blind or Deaf Dog

We are accustomed to our dogs being of service to us – our watchdog, our companion, and our comfort. But when they are born with physical difficulties or come to develop them, they may need to rely on us instead. It’s time for us to return the love and devotion.

When it comes to losing sight or hearing, neither of you may be aware of it at first, if the onset is gradual. That’s why it’s important for your dog to get a full annual checkup, and for you to take note whenever she doesn’t seem to respond normally. Does she stumble, seem confused, or clumsy, have cloudy eyes, very large pupils, or tilt the head a lot?

If the onset of blindness is sudden, then be prepared to deal with some fear, anger or depression. Your dog may be afraid to do anything, or stay in bed all day. You’ll have to reassure her that you’ll be there for her, and you two will learn to do things differently together. Your tone of voice and reassuring touch will be important.

You’ll be using your voice a lot more often, by telling her that you’re walking up to her, for example, so she won’t be startled. Always approach her from the front. She will feel very vulnerable from the backside, and could nip. Make a note of her condition on her collar tag, and tell visitors how they can help to make her feel comfortable around them.

Safe-proof the house with baby gates and sharp-corner bumpers. Add different-textured carpet runners to create paths for her to locate her bed, eating area or the door. Keep things in the same place to help her develop an internal map.

Play soothing music or quiet TV, install wind chimes, get squeaky toys, or bake favorite aromatic treats in the kitchen to enrich her life with other sensations.

Develop some new commands to go left, or go up, for example. Use the same word, ‘go’ with each, to let her know it’s a movement command. Practice these a little each day, and have lots of patience. Jingle car keys or the leash if It’s walk or ride time, telling her, “Let’s go out, let’s go ride.” She will understand if you remain consistent. Her world will need to be a lot more structured in little ways like that. 

Likewise, if your dog becomes deaf, note this on her collar tag and tell visitors so all can have a comfortable visit. 

It’s important not to startle her awake. Turn on a lamp, open the blinds or put some food nearby to gently rouse her out of sleep naturally, until she wakes up and you can give her visual cues.

You’ll have to leash-walk her until she can learn hand signals to come, stop, sit and no on. Facial expressions will become very important to convey messages, and over time you’ll develop so many visual ‘conversations’ that you won’t even realize you’re doing it. Show her your keys, the leash, her food bowl and other items to give her clues about what is to come. You’d be amazed at how quickly dogs catch on. 

If there are other pets in the family, they will have to be watched and helped to learn how to respond to your blind or deaf dog. A disability changes her place in the pack, and even more so if your dog is male. That may be painfully difficult to accept. Assure her that she’s still in the pack, and help her to readjust by making her feel loved. 

As you help your dog to overcome adversity, both of you will develop a truly special and inseparable bond.

Heron’s Crossing provides end-of-life care for pets in the Metro Atlanta area. In-home appointments with compassionate vets are available. If you’d prefer a home-like setting away from your home, our Decatur office is also available by appointment.