Tag Archives: blind dogs


When pet owners are blind to blindness

Confession: I’ve had a dog of my own who went blind, probably starting days to weeks before I noticed. What? I’m certainly not a boarded veterinary ophthalmologist, nor am I in one of the best vets in the country, but I’m competent. No, the reason I missed the early signs is that pets are amazing when it comes to staying in routine and masking signs of problems.

The first dog I had who went blind was a 12 year old Miniature Schnauzer named Bode. One Thanksgiving, Bode broke into a trash can filled with the delectable detritus of a monster meal including lots of fat from the roast and ham. Consumption of about a half-gallon of fat caused him to have acute pancreatitis, where dogs can not only have extreme abdominal pain, but go blind.

The lights in his eyes probably went out on Black Friday, but I didn’t notice for about a week. He still scratched to be let outside to potty. Still ran to the gate to bark when UPS arrived at the house. Still ate out of his food dish and drank out of the water fountain. Bode even followed the nightly ritual of treat, outside to potty, and jump into our bed. It was only around December 1 that I knew he was blind.

Dogs know familiar paths in the house and yard (marked with scent and by feel), and every sound in the house has a special meaning. This creak means the treat drawer is opening. Run to it! This drip means it’s bath time. Sneak away. It was only when I held up a piece of hot turkey and Bode was snapping wildly in the air that I literally shrieked, “Oh no! Bode has gone blind!” Then I back-tracked in my mind to “cause and effect.” The fat meal led to pancreatitis that led to blindness. By the way – Miniature Schnauzers are very susceptible to pancreatitis.

More recently, our shelter rescue, Quin’C,  suffered a major seizure and had temporary blindness afterwards. I knew because I tossed a tasty treat his way, and instead of snapping it out of the air like before, it hit him on the bridge of his nose.

In fact, tossing really tasty treats (like pieces of a hot dog) at a dog is one of the ways general veterinary practitioners diagnose blindness. Another is to toss a cotton ball at the face to see if the dogs closes his eyes or does an avoidance move.

Bottom line: If you see your pet having any difficulty finding his way around the house or catching a treat, see your veterinarian immediately. I’ve had some of these cases in my patients turn out to be Canine Cognitive Disorder Syndrome, and others were blind. To paraphrase the old Clairol commercial, “Only your veterinarian knows for sure.”

A good reason to be careful when feeding a blind dog!

It was New Year’s Eve at Almost Heaven Ranch, and the house felt empty. It was still full of our dogs, but our children, along with their families and pets, had left. So Teresa and I tried to blunt the loneliness by cleaning up their rooms and the house. Part of that effort was cleaning out all of the holiday leftovers from the refrigerator.

We decided to help ring in the New Year for our pets by giving them skinless pieces of chicken breast, some green beans, and naan bread.

One of our dogs, Shakira, is a beloved Golden Retriever, 15-years-old, blind, and almost completely deaf. I’m always very careful when feeding Shakira, especially when it’s something that has an ambrosial smell and tantalizing taste, like chicken. I do so coming up from underneath her muzzle with the food in a cupped hand. All was going great, dogs were tail-wagging, slurping, excited, and I felt great giving them this special holiday feast. That’s when the shoe dropped. Actually, that’s when something dropped on my house slipper.

That something was a thick piece of naan bread, and it landed on my left foot, exactly like I was holding the edge of a Frisbee with the toe end of my slipper. Her eyesight may be gone and hearing fading, she still has a wicked sense of smell. Her head dropped straight down to the olfactory target, and she started wolfing down the naan. That would have been okay, but my foot was also in her mouth!

Shakira must have thought that naan was as tough as shoe leather, because she was really sinking her teeth in as she chomped the slipper sandwich so rapidly I couldn’t get my foot out. I yelled out as loud as I could, “GET YOUR TENNIS BALL!”, and she released my foot and took off trying to find her ball.

One of her canine teeth went right through the leather on the upper part of my shoe and my foot was throbbing, but nothing was broken. With tears in my eyes from about 6-out-of-10 pain, I went inside to tell Teresa what happened. She laughed and laughed, actually cried laughing.

Here’s the lesson: Be extra careful when feeding a blind dog that has a hearty appetite. And don’t expect sympathy from anyone when you aren’t.