Coping with Blind Dogs
Written by Judy Longhouse

George (in chair) Gracie (on floor)

Note:  The article below chronicles the onset, progress and eventual loss of vision due to glaucoma in one Italian Greyhound.  Glaucoma is not a common problem in IGs.  However, in any breed there are a number of disorders that can crop up...usually with age...that do result in a dog going blind.  This article is intended to help any owner of any dog of any breed cope a little better with a visually impaired dog.  The particular dog discussed in this article is Pony Haven George Longhouse, an 11 year old Italian Greyhound.  His glaucoma is NOT the result of a poor breeding program.  Sometimes we have a tendency to blame breeders for everything.  There is no such thing as a genetically perfect dog that will live forever.  Aside from his blindness George is a 100% healthy little dog. He is a playful, normal, happy IG and he does not regard blindness as a handicap.  This story has a happy ending!!!     6/10/07

 Helping Your Dog Cope with Blindness

 A few short weeks ago my Italian Greyhound, George, experienced a sudden, complete and permanent loss of vision due to glaucoma.  There is a difference between canine chronic glaucoma and acute glaucoma.  With chronic glaucoma the vision loss is gradual.  Eventually the eye may or may not need to be removed.     Acute glaucoma with high enough pressure can result in sudden and permanent blindness and also the complete loss of the eye in emergency surgery.    With acute glaucoma the loss of vision can be SUDDEN and DEVASTATING!!  George's veterinary ophthalmologist, Dr. Kent Burgesser,  refers to any kind of glaucoma...but most especially acute glaucoma, as “a terrible, terrible disease”.  There still has not been enough research into the origins of  glaucoma and no one really understands the exact cause.  Diagnosing glaucoma in the earliest stages is also tough.  In early glaucoma there is often no increase in eye pressure.  A dog can't give the type of feedback necessary for a field vision test.  Eye pressure also fluctuates from hour to hour.  Although your own veterinarian may initially detect glaucoma…accurately diagnosing and managing this disease is best handled by a Board Certified Veterinary Opthalmologist. 
With most eye diseases the loss of vision is gradual.  Knowing that your dog has PRA (progressive retinal atrophy), cataracts, retinal inflammation, corneal disease or chronic glaucoma is more devastating for you than for your dog.  Time is a great healer....and gradual vision loss is easier for your dog to cope with than sudden.  People who already had blind dogs kept telling me that George's blindness would be more emotionally upsetting for me than for him.  That's because most eye diseases that terminate in blindness are gradual.  Most owners of blind dogs have gone through a gradual process of vision loss with their dogs.  I can tell you for sure that sudden, permanent blindness was every bit as traumatic for Georgie as it was for me.  He was devastated. 
That's the bad news.  Here's the good news.  With top notch veterinary care, medication, meticulous attention, sensitivity to emotional needs, lots of snuggling and is possible for a dog to eventually regard blindness as a relatively minor problem.  Even a dog with sudden onset blindness can adjust.  Every day can be a happy one for a blind dog....and ABILITY triumphs over disability.  In hindsight.... had I known then what I know now....much of my own misery could have been spared.   

In cases of instant blindness the physical healing is the easy part for your dog.  Canine emotional healing after sudden and devastating loss of vision can take much longer than physical healing. For a Sighthound the sudden vision loss is especially traumatic.  However, Georgie has managed to emotionally recoup himself in only 6 weeks.  This morning was the final triumph.  He was able to take the lead walking on leash.  My other Italian Greyhound,  Gracie, is back to following George!  WAHOO!!!  

Over the past few weeks, though, life was not always so rosy.  George was depressed.  His little tail barely wagged.  His appetite was poor.  He would not drink from his water dish.  There were lots of unusual housetraining “accidents”.   He would not walk on leash.  There were many times when he didn’t even want to be held.  I decided that George would recover from this depression sooner rather than later and that he could indeed be helped.  With the help, skill, knowledge, love and support of our wonderful veterinary ophthalmologist, Dr. Kent Burgesser , and  by doing some reading plus using a generous dose of common sense….George has made the transition from sight to blindness relatively easily.   Here are a few suggestions to help your dog better cope with vision loss:
(above George lounging about)

1.  Don't move anything.  Even while your dog is healing...don't try moving the feeding dish closer to his bed in order to make things "easier".   From day one… try to keep physical objects in your home exactly where the dog would expect them to be. 
2.  After eating your own meal..make sure to push the chairs back in under the table. 
3.  Don't leave your cast off sneakers or other debris on the floor.   Keep all floor areas as clear and as stable as possible.  Try to keep every object exactly where the dog has come to expect it to be. 
4.  Watch out for stairs and erect barriers.  It is easy for a blind dog to fall down the least at first.   If you have a pool....make sure your dog has no access to that either.  A blind dog could fall in and drown. 
5.  Realize that it's going to take YOU time to cope with your dog's sudden blindness and that the emotional suffering is shared.  However, KEEP YOUR SUFFERING TO YOURSELF.  If you're going to burst into it privately out of your dog's range of hearing.  Dogs are very sensitive to human emotion.  Make sure that you keep your emotional energy POSITIVE especially during the time when the dog is trying to cope with the onset of blindness. 
6.  BE POSITIVE!!!!  BE ENCOURAGING!!! BE LOVING!!!!!   Your dog's emotional needs at this point are at least as important as his physical needs.  He needs lots of lap time,  petting and soothing remarks from you. 
7.  Talk to your dog A LOT!!!  He needs to hear your voice.  Discuss everything with him. The more you talk...the more comforted he will feel. 
8.  Put a bell on your other pets.  This will help your dog to know where other family members are. 
9.  ROUTINE ROUTINE ROUTINE!!!  Dogs are creatures of habit.  They're happiest when living within a structure of expected events.  Blind dogs are incredibly appreciative of routine and stability. 
10.  Be SENSITIVE.  Your dog doesn't communicate in words....but make no mistake about it...he DOES communicate!   Be sensitive to how he's feeling.  Be sensitive to his needs.  Be sensitive to his emotions.  Sometimes he'll want to be left alone.  Other times he'll crave lap time.  Do your best to fulfill those needs. 
Your reward for all this special care will be overwhelming joy.  This morning my heart is singing!!!!  Georgie is back to:  1.  talking walks and being thrilled to go "bye bye"  2.  drinking water out of his own dish (for weeks after his surgery I had to give him water by syringe.  He quit drinking)  3.  begging for treats  4. regularly using both the litterbox and the back yard 5.  wagging his tail almost constantly  and 6.  being the NORMAL, happy, affectionate little dog that I love to distraction. 
George (L) Gracie (R)
There are worse things that can happen to your dog than blindness...even sudden blindness.  If something like this ever happens to you and your best friend remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Remember that happy days will come again.   And remember that true vision is in the heart and soul....not in the eyes.
Judy Longhouse
mother of George THE GREAT! 

 MANY MANY THANKS to three wonderful board certified veterinary opthalmologists:  Dr. Kent Burgesser, PhD DVM Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists;  Dr. Daniel Priehs DVM Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists; and Dr. Heidi Denis DVM Diplomate American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists!!!!  Many thanks also to three skilled and caring veterinarians:   Dr. Beth Jamison, DVM, DVSc;  Dr. David Gunderson DVM,  Dr. William J. Falcheck, DVM…George’s primary care veterinarian.   This group represents THE BEST in veterinary medicine!