The good life isn’t over for dogs who go blind. If they don’t have eye pain—which most don’t—and the disease that caused the blindness is treatable, they can lead happy lives. For example, my blind dog Trudy has underlying Cushing’s disease, which can be controlled with drugs, although she’ll never get her sight back. She lost her vision over a period of weeks from SARDS (sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome). Like most owners, I suffered from her rapid loss of eyesight more than she did.
Dogs don’t rely on their vision as much as we do. Even healthy dogs’ eyes don’t focus well on close objects. They’re color-blind compared with humans. They don’t see details as well. The one thing they do better is detect moving objects in dim light. Nature gave them this ability to help them hunt at night.
The people who think it’s humane to put a blind dog to sleep don’t know much about dogs. If you watch sightless dogs who have gotten used to their loss, you see happy, functional pets. They still have their wonderful noses and ears, which become their main sense organs. However, the adjustment may take a little while. Some dogs get depressed when they first lose their vision, acting listless and droopy. They carry their heads low and seldom wag their tails. If this is true of your pet, resist sharing your sadness. Indulge in it only when your dog’s not around. When you’re together, stay upbeat. Find things to do that you both enjoy.
Other dogs get irritable. They growl easily and may snap. While you should discourage this behavior, stay calm when you correct the dog. There’s no point in getting everyone more upset. Approach the dog gently and stroke his or her neck and back. You’ll both feel better when you enjoy close, loving contact.
Above all, don’t overdo the help you give. Avoid taking over your dog’s life. People with blind dogs agree that coddling is the worst thing an owner can do. Instead of carrying a dog upstairs, for example, help the dog learn to do it alone. He or she will take pride in the new skill.
When my dog Trudy recently lost her vision, I was devastated. I worried that she’d no longer enjoy life. Little did I know. Trudy still barks at the UPS man and tries to chase his truck down the street, her hackles raised. She gets around the house without trouble as long as furniture hasn’t been moved or large objects aren’t left in her path. She still delights in jumping up on kitchen counters when I’m not around and and running off with any tasty items she finds. How she does it, I don’t know. Recently she started playing with her toys again, grabbing her hemp rope in her mouth and thrashing it around—going for the kill.
A friend has a blind dog named Radar—a Chinese crested. Radar is a good name for him. He’s so talented that, even without eyesight, he can jump up and catch a fly in his mouth. Like Trudy, Radar is a happy camper.
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