Our dog is going blind: The good, the bad, the questionable parenting

You can see the cloudy in his eye in this pic.

You can see the cloudy in his eye in this pic.

Jackson’s eyes went from looking a little weird when the light hit them just so. To bad: “Oh hey, yeah, his eyes are looking kind of cloudy… I should probably Google that some time.” To worse: Just about everyone noticed his eyes looking strange and cloudy at the Shark Attackiversary. Just two months ago, in August, we had a party with just about the same cast of characters and no one noticed anything off about Jackson, two months later, it’s being brought up constantly.

They got that bad, that fast, and we were both REALLY worried.

They day after the party, Jacksons cloudiest eye was also red and irritated, so Aaron took him to the vet the next day. (Yes, just Aaron.)

Wanna hear the good news/bad news/good news, with some questionable parenting thrown in for good measure?

What’s wrong with him?

It’s not glaucoma like I feared, but it is dog cataracts. As of today, he’s basically blind in one eye, and he will be completely blind in a few more years.

The good news is that he’s not in any pain and he’s 100% healthy. Just, you know… walks into stuff sometimes.

Walks into stuff?

Yeah… I have actually stood there and WATCHED Jackson walk right into trees while on our walks. Here I’m like, “Doo dee doo… He must be really into sniffing whatever he’s sniffing when he walks into stuff like that.”

No, jackass, he’s been going blind! You’re bad at this.

Is there a way to fix this?

The short version: No.

Long version: You could do cataract surgery, but we decided not to even consider an operation unless he’s in pain or in peril. The vet, hilariously and in not so many words, indicated that surgery is basically a rich people option, since it’s entirely elective.

Are you okay?

Mostly okay. Aaron and I had a bit of a cry over it together, but we’re focusing on the fact that, other than the cataracts, he’s the picture of health. But every now and then something hits us — like the fact that our hand signals (sit, stay, up, and down) that he learned so fast and so well will be lost on him, or that at some point he’ll never see our faces again — and we’ll burst into tears.

The worst part, for me, is that I’ve already been feeling the pressure to buy a house with a yard. I thought we had few more years until Jackson got so old that he couldn’t make it up and down the two flights of stairs, and across the long courtyard, just to relieve himself. But now I’m feeling like we need to find out how to get a place ASAP, so that he’ll be able to see and memorize his living space, before his eyes completely go. I’m fuh-reaking about how to pull this all off with less time.

So what are you going to do?

Luckily we’ve always played nose-training games with our beasts. Mostly “smell it find it,” where we let the dogs sniff an object/toy/treat, then we hide it somewhere in the house and let them sniff it out. So we’ll just continue to play that game, but with more frequency.

The vet told Aaron that blind dogs do impressively well at home. In fact, a LOT of people had NO IDEA their dog was blind, until they re-arranged their furniture, and watched as Fido repeatedly walked, head-first, into the recliner. Or until they put down a box, as they came in the front door, and watched Nugget plowed right into it as she ran to greet them.

My friend Laura, who had a predominantly blind dog for 13 years, has also been a wealth of info and support. She told me…

Dogs do this thing called “cognitive mapping” of familiar places. They memorize the layout. So as long as you keep it from varying, he should be good at home. For what it’s worth, they can map anywhere very quickly. Shane lived in five different places, and I traveled with him too. You place their food and water down in a specific spot, put them in front of it & let them sniff & bonk around. They will build a map from there based on scent within a day or so. It’s really very amazing.

Living With Blind Dogs: A Resource Book and Training Guide for the Owners of Blind and Low-Vision Dogs is an older book and kind of expensive, so maybe see if you can find it at the library first if you’re interested in it. But it really helped me work with Shane, teach him how to follow up and down curbs on a walk, map new places, etc.

Also Eye Care for Animals in Pasadena is wonderful too, should you need an eye vet.

Since Jackson’s full blindness will come on gradually, he’ll be just fine. We’ll just keep an eye on his eyes, work on his nose, and actually stop him before he walks into trees from now on.

12 thoughts on “Our dog is going blind: The good, the bad, the questionable parenting

  1. kdmay

    This is happening with my cat, too. He eyes have always looked a little weird, but they’ve been getting cloudier. When we were at the vet this spring, she said it was starting to be an issue. She’s pretty inert, usually, and I wonder how much of it has to do with that. She does ok around the house and still comes up to visitors, but we’re about to move in 3 weeks and I’m worried about her adapting to the new house.

    1. meganfinley

      Duuuuuude, I am SO worried about moving in the future. I’ve been feeling the pressure to be able to buy a house with a yard before Jackson gets too old to walk up and down the two flights of stairs and all the way across a courtyard just to take a piss. Now I’m like, WE NEED TO DO THIS BEFORE HE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO GET AROUND!!! That was my biggest breakdown point when I found out the news. Maybe de-stress a bit by re-framing it as: you’re lucky you’re getting to move BEFORE she completely loses her sight. It’s gonna be weird for her, but not as much as if she was already blind.

  2. kellbot (@kellbot)

    I don’t think that’s questionable parenting AT ALL. Recovery from surgery is painful and sometimes scary, and that’s coming from a human adult who knew 100% what was going on in the situation. I don’t blame you at all for wanting to spare your dog (and your wallet) that experience.

    1. meganfinley

      AMEN! I’m being mostly tongue-in-cheek when I say questionable. But it’s weird to think that I COULD do something that would help him see better, but choosing not to. Then I think about the recovery time and my own anxieties with surgery, and I’m feeling pretty good about the decision.

  3. Ellie

    My family cat went blind with several years left to live, and we moved a couple of times in that time period. He always spent a few days being confused and walking around really slowly, but after that moved around almost as well as he had when he could see. Moving is a little stressful for blind pets, but not earth-shatteringly so… so if you aren’t ready to get a house yet, don’t stress it! Your dog will figure it out when the time comes.

    As for seeing faces, it’s sad to think of him not seeing yours anymore… but they operate so much more heavily on other things like smell than we do. So it’s quite likely he’ll still experience you in much the same way that he always has, even when his vision is gone.

    Sorry you’re going through this! I think you’ll be surprised at how okay everything turns out, though. :)

  4. Halley

    When I was growing up our family dog went blind at around 5 years old or so. He lived another 7 years as a blind dog and it was ok. As your friend mentioned, animals make a mental picture of their living space and can move around pretty quickly in it. Whenever we rearranged the furniture, or put up the Christmas tree, we’d take him by the collar and lead him around “showing” him how things had been moved. He’d sniff and get a new mental picture and then be ok with the new layout. He could get around so quick and with such confidence that you’d sometimes forget he couldn’t see.
    It’s hard when your animals get sick, but the good news is that your doggy is healthy otherwise! And with dogs’ brilliant noses, and you and your husband showing him around whenever anything gets moved/he goes to a new place/ etc, he’ll be ok!

  5. Carol

    Bit late to this but don’t worry AT ALL. Our little one went through the exact same thing last year, the very sudden decline. There was a really scary period of a few months where she constantly fell off kerbs and bumped into trees and then suddenly she seemed to adjust.
    Now she runs around just the same as before. On walks she’s slower and will either hug the kerb or hug the wall but she’s learned very well herself what her limits are and how to keep herself safe. She’s very good in strange places, much more careful and curious than she ever was before.
    We also added noises to our hand signals to help her transition and that seems to be working pretty well.

    Tl.Dr it might seem worse before it gets better but it will all be fine. Good luck.

  6. kirstenlf

    My Sadie went blind overnight. Literally. She could see when she went to bed and was 100% blind the next morning. It happened so fast that I went into a sort of mourning, but Sadie adapted quickly, just as your vet said to you. Honesty, took me a year to get over it, but Sadie was fine getting around in the house within a weel.

    Sadie has severe diabetes and the blindness is a common side effect. So, being a researcher, I researched the hell out of the subject.

    Problem 1: As Sadie is a beagle, her sense of smell is even more sensitive than most dogs, so I knew that just going for walks would be difficult for her. I mean, even if she knew the area, she’d often get distracted by exciting scents in the air and lose her way. Also, after going blind, she would no longer walk on a leash. I suspect being led around when you can’t see is mighty disconcerting even if you trust the person leading you. Solution: I bought her a stroller. We stroller it through the city to the park and then I let her out to follow her nose around in a safe space.

    Problem 2: teaching Sadie how to navigate in her own. Solution: I spent time teaching her key words to alert her to upcoming obstacles. Now she understands that if I say “careful,” she should stop and reverse direction. If I say “step,” she knows she has to go up or down. And I f I say “up and over,” she knows there’s a bump in the way (like going over a curb). After a month of repetition, she was fully confident in every environment. I’m still panicky and over protective, but she’s so hard charging that people are shocked when I tell them she’s blind. She will flat out run across a field! Occasionally she’s run into a shrub, but then she just picks herself up and shakes it off.

    Here’s a hilarious video of Sadie stealing her best friend Sheila’s food bin when we were visiting the neighbors: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152822678119390

    1. meganfinley

      Okay, first of all: That video was AWESOME! I’m smiling from ear to ear. What a smart girl!

      Second: I love that you are basically your dog’s guide human. I love the idea of word queues. Seriously, is Sadie the smartest beat of all time, or what!?

      THANK YOU for sharing this!!! It also makes me feel not-so-weirded-out about how FAST Jackson’s eye sight went.

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